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Afghanistan's Red Crescent Health Clinics Face Cutbacks

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says a network of 50 health clinics in Afghanistan may be forced to cut back drastically due to a lack of money.

The International Red Cross says Afghanistan's health system is in shambles after many years of conflict and misrule. The threatened health clinics operate in remote areas of the country. A network of 14,000 volunteers provides the only health service available to about 12,000 villages.

Red Cross spokesman Dennis McClean says these facilities are under threat because of poor donor support. He says the same health network functioned well throughout the 1990s under Taliban rule.

"In the absence of any health system inside Afghanistan, they were a vital element of civil society," said Mr. McLean. "And now, it is quite ironic that we are seeing little donor support for them now that we are trying to usher in a new age of democracy and freedom in Afghanistan."

The Red Cross only has received about one-fourth of the $10 million for which it appealed. Mr. McClean says he believes the work of the Afghan Red Crescent is not adequately recognized. In the past couple of years, he says humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has tripled, but little of the money has gone to support the health network. But he says the clinics have managed to stay open.

"But certainly, it is an issue that we will have to address in the coming months if the donor response does not pick up," he said. "I think one element of our program in Afghanistan that might be affected first might be the emergency mobile units which are part of this program. In the first three months of this year, they treated over 10,000 people."

If the mobile units have to disband, the Red Cross spokesman says thousands of people in rural areas would have no hope of receiving health support of any type. He says the clinics provide services ranging from treatment of simple diseases to health education and assistance to pregnant women.