What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Afghanistan? War? Terrorists? Taliban? In the U.S., we hear the ongoing war in Afghanistan consistently reported in the media, but what we don't hear about is the country's deteriorated health system. Since the start of the war on terrorism in 2001, there have been over 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed, but more Afghan children under the age of five will die in one year due to inadequate medical care.
Before the start of the Afghan wars in 1978, Afghanistan had a decently modern health care system, but after years of war, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the country is considered one of the most dangerous places for a child to be born. The infant, child and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world.
These high mortality rates are not only a result of years of war, but also risky cultural traditions, such as women giving birth in the home. In efforts to improve health care in Afghanistan, my organization, MedShare, has partnered with American Medical Relief Services (AMOR), whose mission is to improve the health of impoverished people in the Middle East.
AMOR built Afshar Hospital, an 85-bed facility in Kabul focused on maternal and pediatric care. The first baby born at Afshar was to a young Afghan woman, who came in to give birth to her ninth baby. However, every baby she'd previously bore had died during childbirth. Seven of those babies, she'd delivered at home. When this mother's ninth baby came out of the womb at Afshar, it wasn't breathing. Initially, the nurses pronounced it dead, but other staff stepped in and by simply stimulated the baby's breathing with a little oxygen, it began breathing on its own and this young mother had her first healthy baby.
This is a perfect example of how employing simple, inexpensive medical techniques and resources can save lives. It doesn't take hundreds of thousands of dollars and fancy machines to make a positive impact on health care in Afghanistan. Although the health statistics in Afghanistan are abysmal, AMOR's president and CEO, Dr. Mark Scoffield, believes that basic medical care and health education would bring significant health improvements to the country.
In another situation, a woman who was six months pregnant came to the hospital complaining of nausea, dizziness and claiming she was going blind. At first, the doctors were afraid it was a brain stem lesion, but an MRI ruled that out. Instead, this mother was simply suffering from a common vitamin B deficiency, and two hours after a vitamin B injection, she was feeling fine.
Afshar Hospital opened its doors in April 2009, and is completely operated by Afghans, employing 110 Afghan medical professionals. The first month Afshar saw 800 patients, but in one year, that number has grown to an average 3,000, with some patients traveling 70-80 miles to get care.
To supply Afshar with the necessary medical supplies and equipment, MedShare sends surplus medical supplies and equipment recovered from U.S. hospitals and medical companies. The medical staff at Afshar is able to order the supplies and equipment they need from our online inventory. These are unused, unexpired medical supplies that could have been destined for a landfill, but instead, are loaded on a 40-foot shipping container to possibly save the lives of mothers and children at Afshar Hospital.
It doesn't take much to save many, and we must remember that Afghanistan is more than a country of war. It's a country with victims of war, and AMOR and MedShare are working together to bring the people of Afghanistan health care that all people deserve.