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British Hospital Offers World-class Health Care for Afghan Civilians

by Medindia Content Team on  December 24, 2007 at 4:37 PM Hospital News   - G J E 4
British Hospital Offers World-class Health Care for Afghan Civilians
A petite village woman with dark henna on her hands lies wrapped in a blue sheet at the best hospital around -- a British military facility in southern Afghanistan.
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Raheena, who puts her age at about 30, was brought here by helicopter in late October with gunshot wounds to her abdomen and chest.

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She is one of the lucky Afghan civilians to benefit from world-class health care, at a place where it is not always clear which side the patients are on in the battle for the soul of the war-torn country.

In Raheena's case, she said through an interpreter, her sons found some bullets in the desert and somehow some of them exploded.

"Our children are uneducated," she said. "They were playing."

Helmand province is Afghanistan's opium heartland, an area from which drugs barons extract huge profits -- some of which fund the Taliban -- while villagers live in poverty with little access to decent health care.

But at the British Army Field Hospital at Camp Bastion, a town-like base built out of the vast Afghan desert, Raheena has had the best medical treatment in Afghanistan, perhaps even better than some people could get in Britain.

In the hive of tents that make up the hospital, there are top-class surgeons and consultants instantly available for any speciality -- besides a normal rotation of anaesthetists and nurses.

There is a pharmacy and a pathology lab with virtually instant results for which one might wait an hour in Britain, said Colonel Ian Goulbourne, a leading consultant surgeon in Britain who commands the hospital.

There are digital X-rays that take five seconds, a CT scanner and special blood warmers. A brand-new operating table came in early November.

"We can do most operations here, life- and limb-saving," the colonel said.

The staple is, of course, "typical war surgery" from gun shots, mines and improvised bombs -- one of the biggest threats to the 60,000 international troops in Afghanistan.

Then there was a case when surgeons had to remove a piece of the cranium of one Afghan child embedded in another after a suicide bombing.

"We see more trauma here in a week than most hospitals in the UK would see in a year," Goulbourne said.

The priority of this medical team of about 100 people is the soldiers -- Afghan and international.

The staff also treat the many civilians caught up in Taliban suicide bombings or military air strikes.

And there are the locals who just arrive, even though they are not strictly eligible and it might not be clear where their allegiances lie in Afghanistan's complicated conflict.

"We are set up for wounds of war, no matter which poor person has them," Goulbourne said.

For the team, he said, it may just be a "21-year-old who has a hole in him that needs fixing." If he turns out to be aligned with anti-Western rebel groups, "Maybe he will realise we are not so bad after all."

The hospital is to move in the coming months to a new facility that includes new accommodation and an extension of the runway to allow larger transport planes to land.

Conditions at the forward operating bases that are holding patches of land from the Taliban are more basic, with less access to power and water and none of Bastion's top-line machines.

In extreme cases, these doctors are required to stabilise severely wounded soldiers so they can be airlifted to Bastion.

In his first weeks to early November, doctor Jason Biswas had only encountered a few coughs and colds, skin infections and sand allergies among the troops at his base in Helmand's volatile southern town Garsmer.

But he was under pressure from the few locals in the largely deserted town to open up to the public, with Garmser's modern clinic now ruined and the nearest health facility 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.

"I am not here to treat locals but if locals come in for life- and limb-saving, I will," Biswas said.

Still, he did meet with an intelligence chief recovering from a suicide bombing a few months earlier and took in a little boy sporting a bright, pus-filled lump on a dirt-encrusted hand.

Bastion has had a stream of children wounded in this conflict, which started soon after the Taliban were removed from government in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.

For the kids there is a playroom with bright toys and sparkly fairy wings that are as popular here as anywhere.

They are invited to take some home when they leave but most often don't, said Tim Wright, one of the welfare officers.

"If they are seen to have Westernised toys or items, the Taliban and locals who are against Western culture could harm the family," he said.

Source: AFP
LIN/M
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