August 27, 2009

Why The Human Rights Clinic Matters

Today's guest post is from Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, who has helped to launch and run our new Human Rights Clinic. The Clinic is designed specially for refugees seeking asylum in America, which can require lengthy and sensitive medical examinations. Many thanks to Dr. Ferdowsian for all of her work and support.

The plight of refugees has been a concern of mine since I was a child. My dad is from Iran, and he and my mom, who is from the US, helped my father's extended family seek refuge in the United States when their religious group (the Baha'i Faith) came under persecution. As I grew up, I sustained an interest in human rights violations such as torture and genocide, and continued to learn about populations around the world that were targeted for their ethnic, political, or religious affiliations, or for other reasons.

I’ve been evaluating survivors of torture for about 6 years now, first under the auspices of Doctors of the World (now HealthRight International) and working with independent attorneys, and more recently with Physicians for Human Rights.

Before we moved this clinic to Bread for the City, it was held at George Washington University. We could generally only see patients there on a one-time basis, and since many of them didn’t have health insurance, we weren’t able to connect them with the care that they often needed. Here at Bread for the City, we can ensure that they receive long-term care as well as other services like legal counsel or public assistance. That network is here for them.

This is also a good space for health care providers, because we can support each other. Even when physicians have gone through the necessary training, we sometimes struggle to do this work alone. It’s emotionally tolling. People have very sad stories, and it can be difficult to process that on your own.

All of us who do this work are asked to see more people than we can possibly accommodate. I’m proud to see Bread for the City once again responding to a great need. Our community needs this kind of leadership.

Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, is director of research policy for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and associate director of clinical research for the PCRM subsidiary Washington Center for Clinical Research.

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