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Newman helps bring respiratory care to Morocco

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Dustin Michelson


A doctor from Northern Africa is touring Newman Regional Health and Emporia this week on an International Fellowship Program.

Dr. Mohammed Herrag is from Oujda, Morocco, where respiratory therapists are scarce if not nonexistent. He specializes in and teaches respiratory care.

“He has no idea what our field does as far as taking care of the patient at the bedside,” said Karen Schell, director of cardiopulmonary services. “He’s interested in that.”

In Morocco, there are issues with respiratory health that need to be addressed. One of them is the access to equipment, which is often very expensive.

The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, recently inaugurated a new teaching hospital in Oujda where Herrag works. The hospital costs more than $500 million, but has all of the new facilities and technologies including lung function testing, sleep disorders testing and bronchoscopy.

“In Morocco we have a problem we are dealing with, with the respiratory diseases like tuberculosis,” Herrag said. “It’s a big issue there. We have about 27,000 new cases every year.”

The Moroccan government is doing what it can to provide victims of TB with free medication, he said. Many people, however, are diagnosed with respiratory illnesses as a result of tobacco use.

COPD is also a problem, and 20 percent of people in Morocco are asthmatic.

There is a great need, Herrag said, especially because people in Oujda and surrounding areas had to travel 500 miles to the nearest hospital to receive treatment in a larger metropolitan area.

Herrag arrived at midnight Saturday. Over the weekend, he found time to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve and to eat at the Hays House in Council Grove. On Sunday night, he visited the sleep lab at Newman. On Monday, Herrag toured the hospital’s catheterization lab.

Herrag visited the U.S. one other time, in San Antonio. His visit to the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve was memorable, he said.

The prairie was very beautiful, Herrag said.

The International Fellowship Program, founded in 1990, seeks to give health care professionals from outside United States boarders an opportunity to observe respiratory care in the U.S. It is sponsored by the American Association of Respiratory Care, and its mission is to promote communication between countries, to create a fellowship of respiratory professionals throughout the world.

“Since we’ve been doing this, some countries have started respiratory therapy programs because they see the benefit of it,” Schell said. “There’s education, as far as getting other countries to recognize the profession, but also to recognize they can develop schools as well.”

Out of the 26 applications this year, six were selected. Being among them, Herrag said his goal was to witness respiratory care in the United States — the leader in the field — as well as new technology and “welcoming persons.”

Herrag’s visit is special to his hosts as well because Herrag represents a country not previously represented in the fellowship program.

“We’re excited just to have the opportunity to have him here in Emporia because only 12 cities were picked as host cities,” Schell said.

In 2012, Audrey Forson, a doctor specializing in respiratory care, visited Newman on the same fellowship. There were seven applicants selected then, and Forson was the first from Ghana. She was also one of five from the African continent to have been awarded the fellowship since its inception.

“It’s not well publicized either,” Schell said. “The majority of our candidates in the past have come from Asian countries, and we are starting to open up to the rest of the world.”

Newman will become part of a support group for the inception of a respiratory care facility in Morocco.

Respiratory therapists throughout the country applied for their city to become a host city in 2012.

“I applied again this year because I thought it was a great experience, not only for the physician but our staff and the hospital,” Schell said.

Applicants who are selected visit a care facility in a rural area, and then in a metropolitan area. From Emporia, Herrag will travel to Minneapolis. Afterward, he and representatives from institutions around the country will meet at a national convention on Nov. 16 where 6,000 to 8,000 respiratory care professionals attend.

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Dustin Michelson