In the summer of 2012, five medical students from Baghdad College of Medicine and Al-Nahrin College of Medicine decided to get together and start a summer project for students called Your Health First, little did they know they were planting the seeds for what was soon going to turn into one of the biggest student organizations in Iraq.
Marwan Shawki, Omar Abdul-Qader, Mohammed Nayyef, and sisters Mariam and Helen Hana are the founders and the first ever Executive Board and later Supervisory Council of ifmsa-iraq. They came from different backgrounds and colleges but were united by their love of volunteering and firm desire to make a change. They understood the importance of the participation of medical students in Iraq’s civil society, one that is still slowly growing, and the importance of medical students’ integration into their communities. They also wanted to create an environment for medical students to grow and learn, without facing any form of gender, religious or sectarian discrimination. Something that is still difficult to achieve in the Iraq of today.
ifmsa-iraq’s foundation was built on overcoming many challenges and obstacles. It was not easy at first, from working on the logistical aspects of an event to taking permissions and establishing work credibility. But soon enough, the spark caught on fire, and the initial team of few people started expanding. Slowly but surely, the team gathered members from almost every medical college in Baghdad.
The first project of ifmsa-iraq was Your Health First. The students were inspired to structure this project as a response to an issue they saw daily on the wards during their medical training. They were concerned by the the community’s growing needs of an effective health promotion and education, as the numbers of young people with chronic yet preventable diseases continued to rise. This notion, along with the students’ passion to positively influence the people of their community was the building block for the initiative of Your Health First. It consisted of a series of events held in different public places to provide awareness on non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and providing simple medical services for free by medical students like measuring blood pressure and glucose levels. Your Health First is still one of the strongest projects of ifmsa-iraq. Your Health First is part of The Standing Committee on Public Health (SCOPH). At the beginning, there were only 3 active Standing Committees, but gradually, ifmsa-iraq managed to activate all of its 6 Standing Committees, 5 Support Divisions and then fill all the positions in the Team of Officials.
Today, ifmsa-iraq is actively working in the fields of public health, sexual and reproductive health, human rights and peace, medical education and research and professional exchange.
Over the few years ifmsa-iraq existed in, there has been a remarkable number of milestones and firsts. ifmsa-iraq became a full member in ifmsa in March, 2015, which means that medical students in Iraq will permanently have a voice in the most pressing health issues facing the region and the world, and that their activities and work now have an international platform to be seen and appreciated. ifmsa-iraq also activated the professional and research exchanges with other countries within ifmsa, which has helped and will continue to help so many medical students in finding opportunities to explore medicine in other countries, and to share their country with the world.