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Medical equipment from country NSW hospitals sent to save lives in Iraq instead of landfill

By ABC news

A woman walking near a full shipping container PHOTO: Operation Hope founder Erica Henley with a 40-foot shipping container bound for Iraq. (Supplied)

Decommissioned humidicribs from regional New South Wales hospitals are being returned to service to help save lives in northern Iraq.

The cribs and other used medical equipment worth more than $400,000 were delivered earlier this year to the city of Dohuk, where health services have been inundated with people fleeing violence in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq.

The demand is such that another shipping container is being filled with equipment from Dubbo, Maitland, Foster and Toronto.

Erica Henley, the founder of Operation Hope Australia, went to Iraq with the first load of supplies and said hospitals in country NSW were responding generously.

Two men standing with some medical equipment.PHOTO: Ken Murphy (left) and Andrew Semple from Maitland Private Hospital with equipment headed for Iraq. (Supplied)

“[Initially] we took over medical supplies in our baggage, but I realised there was a source of medical equipment here in Australia that was just going to landfill,” she said.

“Every time I phoned a hospital, they said yes, so we just started gathering equipment.”

Initial plans were to send a 20-foot shipping container, but that quickly expanded to a 40-foot unit as donations rolled in.

Among the equipment were electrocardiogram (ECG) machines, defibrillators, anaesthetic machines with monitors and ventilators, endoscopy towers and a baby warmer and resuscitation unit — much of which has already been used to save lives.

A woman with two young men standing in a refugee camp.PHOTO: Erica Henley visited Bajed Kandala 2 camp during her trip to northern Iraq. (Supplied)

And with northern Iraq’s relative stability now under threat, Ms Henley said the supplies were critically important.

“When I was first there, there were more than 100,000 people in five camps, but that’s likely increased,” she said.

Mehmet Ozalp, the director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, said the recent military intervention by Turkey in north-western Syria had dramatically altered the political situation in the region.

“Fearing all-out war after the Turkish military operation in northern Iraq, Kurdish populations and other minorities groups started to flee the affected area,” he said.

“Previously, they [Syrian Kurds] would choose Turkey.

“Since Turkey is the main cause of the operation, the only politically stable and safe area close was northern Iraq, hence the majority of the refugees travelled to northern Iraq.”

A man helps Syrians fleeing Turkish advance climb down from the back of a truck.PHOTO: The Kurdish Red Crescent says at least 200,000 people have been displaced by the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. (AP: Baderkhan Ahmad)

Associate Professor Ozalp said essential resources needed by refugees were expensive.

“[The] northern Iraq government should be able to deal with the refugees with international help,” he said.

“Humanitarian organisations, with their access to donors and cheaper supply chains, will be essential to alleviate the needs of the refugees.”

Ms Henley was in Armidale last week sourcing more medical supplies, but also speaking with recently arrived Ezidi refugees who had been staying in camps north-east of Mosul.

“Dukhil was my driver in Iraq, so it was wonderful to see him with his family in Armidale,” Ms Henley said.

“They’re so thankful to be in Australia.”

Dukhil Hakarsh and his family migrated to Australia last month on special humanitarian visas after spending five years in Bajet Kandala 2 camp in Iraq.

He said medical services there during that time were inadequate.

Three people stand in a park looking at the cameraPHOTO: Erica Henley met with Dukhil Hakarsh (left) and other members of the Ezidi community in Armidale. (Supplied)

“After I arrive in Australia, I know I am a human being again, because I’m not living as a human being in Iraq,” he said.

“Now I feel safe.”

The Operation Hope team expect to fill the new container this year, with shipping planned for early 2020.

The organisation is also exploring new ways to help Iraqi Kurds.

“We’re looking at education programs for orphans in Mosul,” Ms Henley said.

“There is also an Ezidi community subsistence farming west of Mosul, so we are looking at how we can use agriculture expertise here to help them.”

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