Ditched but proud Afghans
The News International , Oct.30,1998
By Kamal Hyder Khan

Traveling inside Afghanistan we came across some of the most sophisticated arsenal of both eastern and western origins, ranging from stingers to the T72 tanks. However, I was unable to see any positive contribution of the cold war adversaries in the way of alleviating the miseries of this war weary nation. What I did see however was the immense suffering of the women and children who have endured silently the hardships of deprivation and pain.

Dr SM Hussein, who is deputy director of the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, took us on a round of the hospital The Indians pulled out seven years ago leaving the hospital to the Afghan doctors. Its out-patient department was bombed and shelled by various factions fighting for control of Kabul.

The NGOs did come to the assistance of the hospitals. In all, nine of them supported their activities by assigning different wards to different nongovernmental organisations. However, when they pulled out before the Tomahawk missile attack, the situation took a turn for the worst. Within months supplies began to run out and most of the new equipment that remained could not be used due to lack of technical expertise. One NGO even took away the equipment it had provided leaving the concerned ward virtually useless.

Engineers SN Najibullah looked at us and said, "Have you ever seen people donate equipment and then pick it up and walk away?" There were some honourable exceptions as well like one American NGO which sent two truckloads of medicine after they pulled out.

Today, the only three incubators that remain operational are more than 32 years old. They have to wrap blankets around them to improve their efficiency. Walking through the hospital corridors one had to keep a piece of cloth on the nose. The stench was unbearable, due to desperate shortage of disinfectants. Most of the doctors who worked here had not received their paychecks for several months. A doctor only earns around US$10 a month in a country where people are struggling to barely survive. Not having any anesthesia they inject atropine and diazepam before surgery.

Dr Mustapha, who is head of the surgery department, looked at me and said, "what is the use of asking so many questions when no one cares to help" as he hurried away to handle an emergency. The shelves were empty and while they could handle 70 tests a day they can barely do 7 today. There are no disposable syringes, no antibiotics. There is no gauze or suture and the hospital dispensary cannot even provide basic medicine like painkillers.

The Taliban administration has allowed women doctors to return to work. A young lady is being trained to use the Xray equipment by her male colleague. However, there is a desperate shortage of Xray film. Patients have to drag themselves to private clinics just for an Xray. Some do not make it and those that do have to dig deep into their pockets. There is no facility for neuro or cardiac surgery. If you have a heart condition you cannot expect help.

In the malnutrition ward Gul Ahmed, who is now six months old, fights for survival. He is only 2.7kg in weight. There are other children gazing at the ceiling as their mothers watch helplessly. The hospital has run out of milk and BP5 biscuits. What we saw was just the tip of the iceberg. The Afghans are dying silently and face their predicament without begging for help. For to die proud and not bow their heads is their age old tradition.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g