By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 19, 2008 - The Afghan government, with assistance from U.S. and international forces and nongovernmental agencies, has made great progress over the past year in providing health care to the country's population, a U.S. Army physician posted in Afghanistan said today. "The impact of medicine on stability (operations) cannot be underestimated," Army Col. (Dr.) Jeffrey Johnson, the 82nd Airborne Division's top doctor and command surgeon for Combined Joint Task Force 82's eastern regional command, told Pentagon reporters via satellite hookup from Bagram Air Base, located north of the Afghan capital city of Kabul.
People's access to health care in Afghanistan has made "tremendous progress" over the past 13 months, Johnson said.
Health care is a basic need of all societies, said Johnson, who for just over a year has coordinated Afghan health care issues within Regional Command East.
The Afghan government is the lead agency in providing health care to its population, Johnson said, noting that U.S. and other countries' health care providers now largely serve as advisors.
Upon his arrival in Afghanistan, it became apparent "that we needed to 'nest' our efforts along with the leadership of Afghanistan," Johnson recalled.
The Afghan Ministry of Public Health, he said, has clearly communicated its strategic plan to improve and expand health care across Afghanistan. Under that plan, health care efforts in Afghanistan are focused on several goals, Johnson said. They include:
-- Focusing long term instead of short term;
-- Building capacity across the Afghan health care system;
-- Empowering Afghans to take the lead in their health affairs; and
-- Emphasizing the development of a cadre of Afghan health care professions.
The Afghan health care system is structured with small outposts at the rural level, Johnson explained, with more advanced medical facilities and hospitals available in larger communities.
Continuing efforts are setting the stage for improved health care delivery across Afghanistan, Johnson said. "What we are seeing is that the access of health care here in Afghanistan is growing incredibly over the course of the last six years," Johnson pointed out.
For example, Johnson noted, when the Taliban government fell in 2001, only 8 percent of Afghans had access to health care services. "In 2006, it was 33 percent; and today in 2008, it is up to 79 percent," Johnson said.
The Afghan medical academy in Kabul is getting ready to graduate a new crop of doctors, Johnson said. And Afghan health care professionals already in the system are providing medical training to their fellow citizens, he added.
"Before, the Afghans were turning the slides, and the U.S. provider was giving the education," Johnson recalled. "Now, the Afghans are giving the education, and the U.S. provider is flipping the slides for them."
Such a situation represents "incredible progress," which supports the Afghans' goal to achieve a quality, self-sustaining medical care system, Johnson said.