Medics Teach Afghans to Help Themselves
April 2, 2010
- Green Berets provide medical training to Afghan civilians
- Afghan National Security Forces provide security during classes
- Afghans learn basic medicine to care for themselves
With snow-capped mountains and blue skies, northern Zabul Province is picturesque. The early morning sunrise casts harsh shadows across the deep valley as light dances across irrigation ditches zigzagging the countryside. Though this scenery is striking, it contrasts harshly with the poverty-stricken and mostly uneducated population that makes up the city of Shinkay. It is a city that relies heavily on the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) stationed there to provide security.
In an effort to build cohesion with the population and promote the abilities of the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), a U.S .Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha team working in Shinkay planned and facilitated a local government-led medical seminar (MEDSEM).
"Simply put, it's designed to connect isolated villages to their district doctors and enhance medical infrastructure with an area," explained a military physician assistant (PA).
Surrounding villages were invited to send students to attend a three-day seminar covering basic health and preventative medicine. Basic women's and children's care is emphasized, said the PA.
A MEDSEM is a medical operation that builds upon the traditional medical civic-action program, or MEDCAP. A MEDCAP provides medical or dental care and can vary in size from a handful of patients to a few thousand. It's a medical operation used by military commanders to engage a given population or geographical area to develop and maintain a relationship with the population.
A Special Forces medic added to the team leader's comments. "Realizing the men might not allow their women to attend the classes, we introduced male education, from basic hand washing, food preparation, water collection, boiling, food processing and basic storage of food and meat," said the medic. "We started off with 28 male students and by the third and final day of classes, we had increased our numbers to 35. We broke the classes down to mid-level care and after the men received the general classes, they said they understood the importance of the women receiving the classes that were specific to female and childcare needs."
As a result, female participation increased during the following two days of the seminar.
"I believe the women are the heart and soul of the nation of Afghanistan," said the PA, who served as the lead planner of the seminar. "If we can educate the women through general healthcare education, Afghans will have a stronger and healthier nation." With the conclusion of the medical seminar in Shinkay, the team accompanied the ANA, ANP and Shinkay healthcare providers to two other villages. The first village, only five miles from the Shinkay clinic, contained seven medical seminar graduates. With the ANA and ANP providing security, Afzal and his wife, with the assistance of the Green Berets, set up two separate examining rooms to provide health care.
"Dr. Afzal was able to set up shop to see some villagers and the medical seminar graduates were able to assist with setting up lines and documenting what's wrong with the patients," explained the team leader. "The more they do without our assistance, the more they will grow and have faith in their own government and medical providers. Essentially, we're working ourselves out of a job."
In just three hours, 90 villagers were treated. The medical seminar graduates rotated working with Afzal, offering their opinion and learning to assess illnesses and basic treatments. After receiving medicine, the villagers are provided supplies, such as shampoo and blankets along with instructions from the students on proper hygiene.
"This program will be able to endure past all our rotations as soldiers," said the team leader. "Essentially, we are teaching the Afghans to rely on their own resources to take care of their people."
The MEDSEM, the first in Afghanistan, was a success and also a learning opportunity, said the Green Beret PA.
The team leader summed up the seminar, "Things tend to work out when people are given just a little bit of know-how, and that's what these medical seminars are designed to do."
Afghan National Security Forces, along with their mentors, plan to continue providing medical care, assistance and advice in Shinkay and the surrounding areas in the following months.
Editor's note: For the safety of those involved, some sources in this story are not named. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Kosterman contributed to this story.