So I understood completely when Dr. Lorn Heyne, an Air Force colonel in charge of a medical advisory team at the Afghan National Army hospital at Camp Hero, Kandahar, told me that his team was trying very hard to step back and let the Afghan medical staff take charge.
“We, as American’s, have an inherent desire to do, we want to get in there but we made a conscious decision and effort to have them do it so they could arrive at the right decision and course of action themselves,” he told me.
For the last eight months or so, Colonel Heyne and his embedded medical team has been mentoring the ANA doctors and nurses at the military hospital, with great success. The hospital mortality rate has declined 20 percent and they’ve doubled the number of doctors on staff; no easy feat in itself when staffing is one of the biggest challenges the hospital faces. Kandahar is a dangerous area, and professionally-educated people aren’t exactly jumping at the bit to work there.
But despite the obstacles – lack of qualified personnel, supply issues, inexperienced staff and security concerns, the hospital and its staff are doing amazing things. They’ve created a medical library, host a weekly women and children’s clinic, and have an emergency system in place including inbound patient communication systems and ambulances, and an intensive care ward, which they beefed up in preparation for Operation Moshatrak – their ICU is a source of pride for the hospital staff. On a visit to the hospital, the ANA deputy surgeon general said it was the best ICU capability he’s seen out of the other military hospitals.
There are three other regional ANA hospitals, and the 400-bed national military hospital here in Kabul, all doing their best to create a nationwide military medical system. It’s hard to see the big picture in Afghanistan sometimes, about what we’re doing here and even harder to see the results of all the time, money and energy we’re putting into this country. But when I toured the Kandahar hospital and saw the dedication of the staff, the pride in what they’ve been able to accomplish and where they hope to go, it definitely fills in the gaps. Two years ago, a suicide bomber attacked Kandahar City, killing 100 people and injuring 67; 47 of those wounded were taken to the Kandahar regional military hospital. For two days, they worked non-stop and in the end, they managed to save all but one patient.
The list of accomplishments is remarkable, but what was most impressive to me was the professionalism of the Afghan medical staff. These are people who were either left Afghanistan during the fighting to continue their education or practicing medicine, and have come back to care for their people. Col. Aelaj Basir, the hospital commander, is determined to follow his physician’s code of ethics and insists on treating everyone – civilians, Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, who are infamous for their rivalry, and even Taliban patients – with equal care. He believes that all patients are human beings and deserve the same care and treatment.
And it is that belief more than anything that will help the Afghan people to have faith and trust in their government and leaders – I’m sure the Taliban isn’t offering their IED or bomb victims medical care.