Afghan hospitals ill-equipped, filthy: study: Canada must spend more to improve health care, says B.C. paramedic
by Richard Foot
Edward McCormick had heard the official claims about Canada's bold mission to reconstruct the war-torn province of Kandahar and bring help to its people.
Then last month, the Vancouver paramedic went to see for himself, travelling to Afghanistan with the Senlis Council, an international think-tank, to investigate the state of the civilian hospital in Kandahar City that serves a population of three million people.
Five years after the fall of the Taliban, and one year after Canada took charge of aid and development in Afghanistan's second-largest city, Mr. McCormick says Mirwais Hospital remains in a "state of complete decay ... a glaring symbol of the international community's lack of concern for the Afghan people."
His study, issued this week as part of a larger report on the war by the Senlis Council, is titled War Zone Hospitals in Afghanistan: A Symbol of Wilful Neglect.
Although the Canadian army runs a state-of-the-art field hospital for military personnel just outside town at Kandahar airfield, plus a smaller medical facility at its satellite base inside the city, Mr. McCormick says none of the Afghan doctors and nurses he interviewed in Kandahar had ever seen a Canadian physician come into their hospital to help or even inquire about their needs.
The Canadian International Development Agency, the federal agency responsible for spending $100 million a year in Afghanistan -- Canada's largest foreign-aid project -- has admitted its money has been slow in reaching the people of Kandahar, and none has been spent on the hospital.
CIDA does have plans to build a $350,000 "waiting" facility for expectant mothers there, but construction has yet to begin.
Mr. McCormick, who has a master's degree in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia and worked as an advanced life-support paramedic in Vancouver, says the hospital needs so much more.
"When I walked into the hospital, it was so cold inside I could see my breath," he said in an interview this week from London, England, where the Senlis Council is based. "The place is filthy, and there is absolutely no medical equipment to be found anywhere, except a couple of blood-pressure cuffs."
Mr. McCormick spent a month in southern Afghanistan documenting the state of both Mirwais Hospital and Bost Hospital in neighbouring Helmand province, where Britain is running the reconstruction mission.
In both cases, he says, the hospitals lack heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.
Despite a new, Western-inspired Afghan constitution, which guarantees basic health care services to all citizens, Mr. McCormick says neither hospital has any diagnostic equipment, oxygen, war-zone trauma treatment services or even a reliable supply of medicine.
He says patients, including children, are dying needlessly from treatable ailments ranging from dehydration to war-related wounds.
Defence Department officials in Ottawa declined to respond to the Senlis Council study. The department's website says Canada does organize temporary medical visits to villages and towns in the area, in which Afghan doctors and nurses are hired to hold day-long clinics.
Meanwhile, Canadian military doctors at Kandahar Airfield have said their job is to treat wounded coalition and Afghan soldiers, not provide care to local civilians.
But Mr. McCormick says if Canada is serious about defeating the Taliban, then part of its counter-insurgency strategy should include aid to Kandahar's hospital -- as well as medical help to civilians hurt by Taliban bombs and NATO airstrikes.
"It cost over $4 million to install the Tim Hortons on the military base in Kandahar," he said. "I have nothing but respect for Canadian soldiers. I think they should have doughnuts. But if we as a country can put $4 million into installing that Tims there, we can surely put some money into the local hospital."