May 4, 2009 - Local medical professionals are working hand in hand with Afghan National Army commandos and medical personnel with Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan to provide medical assistance for the people of Shindand district in Afghanistan's Herat province. This melting pot of caregivers from different backgrounds and abilities has come together to operate a medical clinic and provide specialized care for the families of Afghanistan's western border province.
"For a developing country, this is a very good clinic," said a physician's assistant with coalition task force. "Due to the great vision and support of all those involved with the medical clinic and medical activities, we have become very successful here."
The physician's assistant said many different people actively participate in operating the clinic and providing assistance with different types of medical outreach programs. Afghan soldiers, local civilians and coalition medical personnel work together to bring a wide range of medical expertise to residents.
They collaborated to help bridge cultural gaps that can cause difficulties in providing the best possible care. One of the people helping to overcome these barriers is Nadra Barkzai, a nurse and midwife from a nearby village. She assists with children, but primarily works with pregnant women seeking medical assistance.
"I want to do something good for my people," she said. "They have a lot of problems, and I have a little skill. I'd like to help them. The best part is when I see a pregnancy case and I help them. I enjoy this."
Women in traditional Afghan families are in charge of everything in the house, including health care, Barkzai said. She added that medical personnel's ability to provide care for women has drastically improved over the past eight years.
"During the Taliban [rule], women were not allowed to go to school, college, to the hospital or even to the bazaar. Now we can do these things."
Barkzai said 30 pregnant women have come to the clinic recently for medical attention. Coalition forces also have provided some midwife and other medical classes for women in the area, which were well received.
These classes, in addition to the treatment provided, have helped to improve the health of the local people. Sakina, a widow from a nearby village, came into the clinic for a follow-up appointment after a surgery. She also brought in her daughter, who was having a tooth problem.
"I can get help here," she said. "The nurses are helpful."
Sakina added that when the clinic is closed, she goes to see a doctor and the nurses in the village. They are part of the civilian staff that operates in the clinic and the local communities.
"In the past, we have requested support of preventive medicine, dental and veterinary professionals in the area," said the physician's assistant. "Each have been here and provided great assistance."
Other medical outreach programs have been conducted in addition to the clinic, the physician's assistant said. Within the past two months, a medical, veterinary and dental civil action program has been held in the area. More than 1,600 people received medical and dental care, and more than 1,100 animals, mostly livestock, received treatment.
These medical programs have helped to improve the health of the people in the area and have brought a level of care that has not existed in the past in the impoverished region.
"Surgeons are very difficult to come by," the physician's assistant said. "Some of these people have had very old injuries that have not been treated. Not too long ago, we removed a bullet fragment from the hip of a village elder. The fragment was from a gunshot wound from more than 20 years ago. He is able to move now without the pain."
Dental personnel provided care for the people in the surrounding villages. Arbob Zacharia, a village elder, came in for a dental cleaning and had to have two teeth removed.
"This is the first time the dentist came, and they helped out a lot of people," he said. "There is no dentist in the village. The people have to go to Shindand or Herat, and it costs a lot."
This, in large part, is why the clinic is so successful, the physician's assistant said. On average, over the past couple of months, 600 to 700 people per week seek and receive medical aid in the clinic. The medical teams are working hard to meet the needs of the people and hope to continue doing so in the future.
"People have figuratively been doing handstands over the medical successes we've had in the region," the physician's assistant said. "I've been very impressed with what we've been able to accomplish so far, and look forward to continued successes in the future."
(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)