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AFGHANISTAN: Health services under increasing strain in Helmand Province

LASHKARGAH, 9 August 2007 (IRIN) - The number of patients and other people in need of medical assistance has tripled in insurgency-hit Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, in the last three years, provincial health officials told IRIN.

“Three years ago we had 20-30 occupied hospital beds at any one time, but now that number has increased to 80-90,” said Enayatullah Ghaffari, director of Helmand’s public health department, on 9 August.

Nisar Ahmad Barak, deputy head of Bhust hospital in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, said the number of patients receiving medical treatment in the hospital had gone up to 300 per day, a dramatic increase on three years ago.

Nearly one quarter of hospital patients in the province are people caught up in the fighting between Taliban rebels and Afghan government forces backed by US and NATO forces, health workers said.

On 2 August, scores of wounded people were brought to Bhust hospital after US planes bombed an area in Baghran District, in the north of the province. However, the 100-bed Bhust hospital, built by the USA in 1955, had no spare capacity. Some of the injured had to lie on the marble floor for hours until extra beds were brought in.

Two hospitals in Helmand

Helmand Province, with an estimated population of over 700,000, has only two functioning hospitals.

“People drive their patients hundreds of kilometres to bring them to Bhust hospital for treatment,” Barak, himself a physician, told IRIN. Doctors in Helmand say patients from neighboring Farah, Uruzgan and Ghor provinces also come to Lashkargah in search of better quality treatment.

In 2006 over 59,000 people were treated at Bhust hospital, according to public health department records.

Attacks on health workers, facilities

Of the 49 health clinics registered in Helmand in 2002, over 21 are now closed due to attacks on health workers.

In the last five months, two health facilities were torched by suspected Taliban insurgents, in Khan Nishen and Garamser districts, health officials said.

Insurgents have reportedly claimed responsibility for the abduction and murder of several health workers accused of collaboration with the government in the last seven months.

Lack of resources

While health services in some parts of the country may have improved slightly in the past few years, in several southern provinces this does not appear to be the case.

Saed Gul, 44, who brought his sick brother to Bhust hospital from Maiwand District in neighboring Kandahar Province, some 120km away, complained: “For the last 48 hours no member of the medical staff has checked whether my brother’s health is improving or deteriorating.”

Another man, Ramatullah, who said he had no money, said a hospital doctor had made a cursory examination of his eight-year old son, written out a prescription and had told him to buy the medicine from a private pharmacy.

Helmand public health officials say the lack of technical and professional resources are to blame for the limited services they are able to provide: “All our medical equipment is old and we do not have the resources to treat hundreds of patients a day,” Nisar Barak told IRIN.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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