1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Iraq

Burying the eye to heal the mind

Salehe is another Iraqi child receiving treatment from MSF in Jordan.

Abdullah Hussein (not his real name) could not contain his emotions when the doctor handed him his son's left eye after it was surgically removed.

"What is left of my son? His legs are gone and now I carry his eye in my hands to bury it," the Iraqi man told the doctor before bursting into tears. Hussein’s son, seven-year-old Ali, lost half his face and both legs in a Baghdad explosion early this year. The boy is receiving treatment at a ward run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Jordan Red Crescent Hospital in Amman. MSF has a partnership with the JRCH in Jordan.

The group focuses on reconstruction surgery of facial injuries, including fractures; bone, skin and soft tissue defects, bone loss and severe burns. Ali’s eye will be replaced by a plastic one.

For MSF doctors, healing the minds of family members is equally important. Ali and his father are also receiving psychological treatment.

"The father was having difficulty accepting what happened to his son. Burying the physical part will help in the mourning process. It was necessary to provide him with the eye in order for him to deal with reality," said Joséphine Anthoine-Milhomme, an MSF psychologist.

She is one of two psychologists counselling patients and family members during and after surgical treatment.

''What is left of my son? His legs are gone and now I carry his eye in my hands to bury it.''

"Each case is a challenge for us. Some of the elderly feel depressed and even suicidal. In some stages we don't want to make patients leave their rooms because we fear they are going to hurt themselves," said Yousef Mod Mosalam, another clinical psychologist.

The group also provides a small room near the ward with toys and books for children to escape the hospital surroundings. "Here we adopt the method of healing by doing in an attempt to make children feel they are children again, not just patients in a hospital," said Mosalam.

"We try to prepare our patients for life outside, but it is difficult to predict how society will deal with them because what we do here is only reconstructive surgery, not plastic surgery to make them look good again," added Mosalam.

Since it started operating in Amman in August 2006, MSF has treated 300 Iraqis, said Valerie Babize, MSF communication officer.

Jordan is home to nearly 700,000 Iraqis who fled the violence in their country.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help us be the transformation we’d like to see in the news industry

The current journalistic model is broken: Audiences are demanding that the hierarchical, elite-led system of news-gathering and presentation be dismantled in favour of a more inclusive and holistic model based on more equitable access to information and more nuanced and diverse narratives.

The business model is also broken, with many media going bankrupt during the pandemic – despite their information being more valuable than ever – because of a dependence on advertisers. 

Finally, exploitative and extractive practices have long been commonplace in media and other businesses.

We think there is a better way. We want to build something different.

Our new five-year strategy outlines how we will do so. It is an ambitious vision to become a transformative newsroom – and one that we need your support to achieve.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian by making a regular contribution to our work - and help us deliver on our new strategy.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.