FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Inside an Afghan Hospital

Dr Gino Strada, the Italian surgeon who succeeded against all the odds in building the only modern hospital in Afghanistan ? its operating tables had to be delivered strapped to the backs of camels ? shakes his head in anger. He and Kate Rowlands, the hospital administrator, from Northampton, are waiting for an influx of casualties from the new war.

“I am frightened by the Spaghetti Western rhetoric of George Bush about bringing back America’s enemies dead or alive,” Dr Strada says. “Politicians around the world, who could not find Afghanistan on the map, now talk about whether the country should be the target of so-called pinpoint or carpet bombing. The one certainty is that people will be killed.”

Dr Strada had just returned from a five-day journey by four-wheel-drive and horse through the mountains of Pakistan to his 120-bed Emergency Surgical Centre for War Victims, which opened three years ago near the village of Anaba, in the isolated Panjshir valley.

The hospital, a cluster of pretty white buildings with red doors and window frames, is an extraordinary achievement. A former police college, it was rebuilt partly from abandoned Russian military equipment. Wood from old ammunition boxes was used in the ceilings and pipes from tanks in the sewage system.

Medical equipment must be brought across the front line through the mountains on the backs of pack animals. Some of it was transported in a convoy of 40 donkeys. These animals abound in the Panjshir valley. The hospital, paid for by the Italian charity Emergency is primarily for war victims.

Ms Rowlands is an intensely energetic former nurse and a chain-smoker ? she has a large notice on her office door reading “smoking allowed”.

“Some 70 per cent of our patients have war-related injuries,” she says.

But because there are no other fully equipped hospitals, the five surgeons and 24 nurses never turn anybody away. Dr Strada says: “If you have a simple eye cataract, here you go blind because there is no eye surgeon in the whole of northern Afghanistan, though we should have one soon. We are the only hospital in this area which has oxygen.”

Most beds in the wards are occupied by soldiers and civilians wounded in the latest fighting.

In one room, a physiotherapist was exercising Hoja Sharif, a 40-year-old unemployed man from Charicar, which is north of the capital, Kabul. His left leg was torn off by a Taliban rocket.

In another bed,a tough-looking man called Shir Aka had his leg covered in plaster. He had been commander of a section of the front until 18 days ago.

“I was hit by shrapnel when the Taliban attacked and captured part of our line,” he says. Nearby was a captured Taliban soldier who had been sent to the hospital from a prison camp when his wound became infected.

Not all of those injured as a result of the war are soldiers.

Ms Rowlands pointed to a 15-year-old boy named Sardarkhan, saying: “He has been in here twice. Both times after ammunition he was playing with blew up.”

Some patients have travelled a long way to get to the hospital. Dr Strada showed an X-ray of the head of a young man brought by helicopter from Dari Souf, a besieged opposition enclave. “There is quite a piece of metal inside here,” he says. “Normally a sort of capsule forms around it. We won’t touch it unless we have to.”

Almost all of Dr Strada’s patients come from areas controlled by the opposition Northern Alliance. But he has been trying to open a hospital in Kabul, and for three weeks earlier this year he thought he had succeeded.

He says that, of the 14 hospitals in the Afghan capital, only one, a 400-bed military hospital, really deserves the name of hospital.

His new hospital in Kabul had 120 beds, soon to be expanded to 300, and a staff of 250. But soon after it was opened it was raided by the religious police, or maroof, which has the task of “combating vice”.

Ms Rowlands says: “They beat the staff and threw three of them in jail for 10 days. They said we had allowed men and women to eat together, but it wasn’t true. There was a screen between them.”

Dr Strada has decided to close the hospital, and says he will not reopen it until he has a guarantee for its security from the Taliban authorities.

Dr Strada is still negotiating with them.

Last week, a deputy minister in Kabul told him there were only two weeks’ supplies of drugs left in Afghanistan. Ms Rowlands had asked her staff in the hospital to see what drugs were in short supply. “We’ll ask our usual smugglers what they can do,” she says breezily.

When he was asked if obtaining medical supplies was difficult, Dr Strada replied: “Difficult? It’s a nightmare.”

But he is grimly humorous about the problems of running a hospital in Afghanistan. His rage is reserved for the hypocrisy of those whom he believes are about to inflict fresh suffering on the Afghans.

He blames the US and Pakistan for sending the first religious fanatics to Afghanistan to fight the Cold War by proxy, and thereby starting a process that eventually produced the Taliban. “After 1979, you could go to any Pakistani embassy in the world and, if you said you wanted to fight in Afghanistan, they would give you a free ticket paid for by the CIA,” Dr Strada says. “It is they who created Osama bin Laden.” CP

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
Bruce E. Levine
“Heavy Drinking” and the NYT’s Offensive Obit on Herbert Fingarette
Lisi Krall
This Historical Moment Demands Transformation of Our Institutions. The Green New Deal Won’t Do That
Stephanie Savell
Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries
Daniel Warner
New York, New York: a Resounding Victory for New York Over Amazon
Russell Mokhiber
With Monsanto and Glyphosate on the Run AAAS Revokes Award to Scientists Whose Studies Led to Ban on Weedkiller in Sri Lanka and Other Countries
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Fake National Emergency Moves America Closer to an Autocracy
Alex Campbell
Tracing the Threads in Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid
Jonah Raskin
Mitchel Cohen Takes on Global and Local Goliaths: Profile of a Lifelong Multi-Movement Organizer
Binoy Kampmark
Size Matters: the Demise of the Airbus A380
February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail