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US Doctors Work With Afghans to Improve Country's Medical Care


Nine years after the war in Afghanistan began, the government and its coalition allies are preparing for the day it will end. Part of that preparation is ensuring that Afghanistan's medical community will be able to care for the population. U.S. Air Force personnel are working at the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital to help medical workers be ready. Improving the level of care also will help the Afghan military improve its reputation, and help it stabilize the region.

A wounded Afghan National Army soldier is carried through the emergency room.

He has severe head injuries, with shrapnel wounds to his face, his eyes covered in white bandages.

Just 12 months ago, all the seriously wounded went to a nearby NATO hospital for treatment by doctors from the international coalition.

Today he will be treated in the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, the Afghan Army's main hospital in southern Afghanistan.

The United States Air Force has a team of mentors here to support local doctors and nurses. The goal is to increase their skills so they no longer need international help.

The program has been in place since the hospital opened in January 2008.

The U.S. staff provides advice on everything from bedside manners to surgery techniques. The team consists of doctors, anesthetists, nurses and administrative personnel, all vital to keeping a hospital running.

Captain Michael Hampton is a doctor who specializes in trauma care. He says the mentoring program is a tough challenge, with many problems to overcome, but he is impressed with how far the Afghans have come in so little time.

"We have been partnering well, I think, to create a medical system that can continue on in the future, and allow us the chance to separate a little bit and allow the Afghans to run it more for themselves," he said.

Dr. Abdul Khabeir has worked at the Kandahar military hospital for three years, honing his skills with the Americans.

He says he wants to be a good doctor. And he wants there to be stability in his country so that people stop killing each other, and stop the turmoil, and he can improve his skills as an orthopedic surgeon.

The military hospital is an air-conditioned red brick building. The 50-bed facility provides free medical care to civilians as well. There are plans to expand the hospital so it can care for more patients.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Escher is the senior medical advisor to hospital.

He hopes the lessons learned here will spread through the fledgling medical system of this impoverished, war-torn country.

"The things they learn here will be transferred to civilian health care so it's all about building health-care capacity within Afghanistan, so they can manage more severe patients, more critical patients without anybody else's help. That is the goal," he said.

If that goal is reached, it will help U.S. and coalition forces eventually leave the country, knowing it can stand on its own.

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