Kuwait's children are healing, with Maryland's help.
Members of a team of seven Maryland health and public safety officials, returning this week from a 10-day training mission to Kuwait, said the war-torn emirate is slowly emerging from a medical and emotional nightmare.
For its children, they said, the healing process will now be supported by a school-based crisis intervention program built on techniques developed for Maryland's own Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.
More than 700 Kuwaiti school administrators, social workers, nurses, psychologists, teachers and parents received training in crisis intervention and stress management during the Marylanders' visit last week, sponsored by the Kuwait Ministry of Education.
The techniques are the same as those developed since 1974 in Maryland for helping emergency personnel cope with job stress. The techniques were adapted after 1986 to reduce the long-term emotional effects of stress among children following traumatic incidents.
"Virtually every child in Kuwait was affected by this war," said Marge Epperson-SeBour, director of the debriefing team and of psycho-social services at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore.
Epperson-SeBour and Shock-Trauma director James P.G. "Seamus" Flynn, met with Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini yesterday to report on the results of the training mission.
Epperson-SeBour said many Kuwaiti children have been killed or maimed by mines and munitions left behind after the Iraqi invasion and Allied liberation. Others suffer the emotional effects of having watched their parents, friends and family brutalized, raped and murdered.
The destruction around them remains pervasive, and the sound of exploding ordnance is still commonplace, she said.
"The concerns of their parents are enormous," Epperson-SeBour said. Once-secure youngsters are now troubled by loss of appetite, bouts of aggression, nightmares and withdrawal. Some are easily startled and others have regressed into bed-wetting.
All are well-recognized signs of post-traumatic stress, she said.
"It's going to take that country two generations before the hearts of those people are healed," she said. "[But] if we continue to help them, perhaps they will not have the long-term effects of the people who suffered so terribly in the Holocaust" during World War II.
Representatives from Shock-Trauma, the Baltimore City Police Department, the Psychological Institute of Washington, the Charles County Board of Education and Charles County Community College took part in the 10-day mission, which ended Monday.
The training project was carried out at the request of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education. It was first proposed in May during a week-long visit to Kuwait by the Maryland International Health Care Task Force, organized after Gov. William Donald Schaefer's contacts with Kuwaiti diplomats following last year's Iraqi invasion.
A team of 38 health-care professionals from Shock-Trauma, University, Johns Hopkins, Franklin Square and Union Memorial hospitals went to Kuwait May 19 to assess the damage to Kuwait's medical facilities, assist with emergency medical care, and to offer whatever long-term assistance the Kuwaitis deemed necessary.
"What we found" during the May visit, Flynn said, "was a health-care system that was seriously damaged, but not destroyed."
The was a shortage of doctors, nurses, support staff and equipment. Team members visited the hospitals, pitched in in the operating rooms, and gathered information about Kuwait's long-term public health needs.
Only two of Kuwait's five hospitals were open then, operating at 30 to 40 percent of capacity. Patients continued to be brought in with injuries from torture and the detonation of abandoned weapons, many of them stored in schools.
The team also found a need to address the effects of post-traumatic stress among the children in the hospital and their parents, the results of rape, torture, terror and brutality suffered during the Iraqi occupation.
Recognizing a long-term need for such services, the team went to the Ministry of Education with a proposal to develop a nationwide crisis intervention program in Kuwaiti schools modeled after that in Maryland. The government accepted the offer and scheduled last week's training mission.