Patients in southern Afghanistan are hoping Red Cross workers will soon return to a key hospital, after an explosion there prompted the aid agency to withdraw its foreign staff.
On June 21, Afghan and Red Cross officials say a small bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded on the grounds of the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar city, the main health facility for the war wounded in the region. Authorities say no one was injured because the device failed to properly detonate. No one claimed responsibility for the explosion.
The International Committee of the Red Cross pulled 20 of its foreign staff from the hospital following the incident, and is now assessing whether it is safe for the foreign administrative and medical staff members to return.
Patients have been quick to feel the effects of the Red Cross departure. One man told VOA's Afghan Service, "we want them to come back and start work. We desperately need them to work. There are a lot of patients here. The doctors were really excellent and they were approaching each and every patient with care."
ICRC spokesman Philippe Marc Stoll tells VOA the aid agency has been at Mirwais Hospital for 16 years and continues to operate there, with the remaining staff providing training and much-needed medical supplies to treat those wounded in the war. He stresses that the work of the Red Cross relies on trust and establishing a good relationship with the local population.
Stoll said, "we don't have armed escorts, guards or flak jackets so our acceptance is key for our work. If people don't trust us, the level of our operations will be reduced."
Foreign aid workers have been the target of kidnappings and attacks in Afghanistan. Just last month, NATO said its forces rescued two Western doctors who were abducted in May while traveling by horseback to treat villagers suffering from malnutrition. The doctors - along with two Afghan staff members - were working for the Switzerland-based humanitarian group, Medair, when they were kidnapped in Badakhshan province
Red Cross spokesman Stoll says aid groups must assess the situation and find the right balance between operations and security. "We can definitely rely on people on the ground who do tremendous work and we will have to assess this balance on a regular basis to be sure that life-saving operations are still maintained while the security is also there. We try to find this right balance and we are working hard in the time-being to reestablish this balance."
Meanwhile, Kandahar's provincial health director, Abdul Qayyum Pakhla, says life-saving work at Mirwais Hospital continues even without ICRC's foreign staff, but that the facility is eagerly awaiting their return. He tells VOA's Afghan Service, "they were experienced doctors and nurses. They were educated from Europe and were really helpful in many ways."