By Army Maj. Kevin Hynes
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 11, 2009 - The Nebraska National Guard and the Afghan army and national police kicked off a new bilateral relationship last week when two Afghan surgeons general traveled here for talks about ways Nebraska can help Afghanistan develop its medical infrastructure. The Aug. 2-5 visit is part of a much larger bilateral partnership between the Nebraska National Guard and Afghanistan that officials hope will strengthen ties between the two and ultimately enable the Guard to help develop Afghanistan's infrastructure in an array of areas.
"This is the first of what we hope will become a very long and very productive partnership," said Army Maj. Gen. Tim Kadavy, adjutant general for Nebraska, as he welcomed Maj. Gen. Ahmad Zia Yaftali, Afghan National Army surgeon general, and Brig. Gen. Qandahar Shinwari, Afghan National Police surgeon general, to the Nebraska National Guard air base here Aug. 3. "We feel like there is much that we can accomplish together, and we're excited to begin."
Army Col. Scott Gronewold, operations officer for the Nebraska Guard, said the August talks are the first step in what Guard officials hope will develop into a much larger, long-term relationship. "The end objective is to create a very effective and accountable government for the Afghan people," he said.
To accomplish that, Gronewold said, the Guard is looking to use its resources and expertise, in partnership with the state's university system, governmental agencies and businesses, to help the Afghans develop their infrastructure. Officials hope to "build capacity within the Afghan government that they currently do not have or must obtain from other countries. This will give Afghans more confidence in their own government institutions," he said.
During the visit, Yaftali and Shinwari met with University of Nebraska Medical Center officials and health professionals about ways the organizations can assist in developing the overall capabilities of the Afghan army and police medical corps, particularly with clinical rotations and residency programs, nursing and allied health education, and delivery of health care through distance technology.
The generals also visited the Nebraska National Guard air base here and UNMC's campus in Omaha, where they toured the center's state-of-the-art clinical skills lab and anatomy lab. They also discussed ways UNMC and the National Guard can help to develop the medical education system in Afghanistan.
Afghan doctors learn their trade through an apprentice-style system, in which new doctors learn from older ones. Modern medical training often isn't available. Additionally, many Afghan doctors have modern equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging machines, but lack the expertise to use or maintain it.
One of the ways that the Guard and UNMC may help is through outreach programs. UNMC doctors will give week-long lectures on a variety of health-related subjects, while Nebraska Guard medical professionals will spend up to several months in Afghanistan helping doctors and nurses there learn how to use and maintain their equipment.
Yaftali said the relationship being developed in Nebraska must be long-term to be effective. "Afghanistan is starting everything anew," he said. "With the support of the United States, we want to build the country. We are looking for a very, highly modern education system, which is what you have here in Nebraska."
Dr. Ward Chambers, director of UNMC's international health program and a cardiologist who has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times, said UNMC is ready to help. "Through these efforts in education, we can build a sustaining medical system where they can educate their own health care providers," Chambers said.
"This is a real opportunity for the state of Nebraska to be involved in medical education with the military and throughout the entire country," he added. "I think it's something the state can be quite proud of."
Gronewold agreed. "This really has national and global implications," he said. "What we do here in Afghanistan also enriches the people of Nebraska because we learn just as much from them as they learn from us."
The Afghan generals also toured the University of Nebraska-Omaha's Afghan Studies Center as well as the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Omaha. They also spent a day in the Washington, D.C., area, where they toured and met officials at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
"The discussions in Washington were really an extension of our talks in Nebraska," said Gronewold, adding that officials there spoke with the Afghans about ways to help Nebraska medical instructors develop the curriculum to be used in Afghanistan. "We also discussed ways that the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences can help train our Nebraska nurses to be effective trainers and mentors for Afghan nursing students."
Gronewold said he was pleased with the progress made during the talks. "I think it has been an excellent visit," he said. "We made a lot of progress in identifying the key issues facing us and key players who will be involved in moving this partnership forward."
(Army Maj. Kevin Hynes serves in the Nebraska National Guard's public affairs office.)