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Small meds make big impact in Afghan village

by Capt. Bob Everdeen
U.S. Air Force Provincial Reconstruction Team Qalat

8/28/2007 - SHINKAY DISTRICT, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Provincial Reconstruction Team Qalat members left many Afghan villagers with a healthier outlook on life after an Aug. 22 village medical outreach in this remote region of Zabul Province in Afghanistan. 

Nearly 200 people were seen by medics assigned to PRT Qalat and other military units stationed in the province. 

The team's goal was to assess overall health in the village and to mentor local nurses who work at the clinic. 

"We gave de-worming medication and vitamins to every patient," said Maj. Debra Roberts, a PRT Qalat medical officer. "And we treated each person according to their symptoms and our diagnoses. We noticed a lot of dental complaints here as well as abdominal pain, headaches, skin irritations and joint pain. We were able to treat all of the patients with the supplies we brought with us, but it will be up to the doctors and nurses here to continue with follow-up care." 

The supplies were varied, but modest by American standards -- ibuprofen, eye drops, cough syrup, anti-allergy tablets, peroxide, creams and lotions. Each villager also had his or her vital signs checked before being seen by one of the medics. 

As part of the multiservice team participating in the village medical outreach, or VMO, Navy Lt. Karen Nordine said she finds her job as a physician's assistant rewarding. 

"The people here are happy with whatever help we can provide, and many times they don't need much. We see a lot of dehydration, malnutrition and minor skin problems," said the native of Fair Oaks, Calif., stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

The team really "brought the Afghans in better on this VMO (than in past ones) and we did some great mentoring," said Major Roberts, who has participated in four VMOs throughout Zabul Province since arriving at Forward Operating Base Lagman in Qalat earlier this year. 

The North Plainfield, N.J., native said she saw fewer allergies at this VMO, but more dental problems. 

"The toothbrushes and toothpaste we were giving out were a big hit with the locals, so much so that we ran out," she said. "We did show one group of parents how to properly hold a toddler in order to brush his teeth, and the example toddler -- though a bit traumatized at first -- was receptive to the advice to brush daily." 

The organizers of the VMO also brought along a few toys for the children; about 58 of whom showed up at the clinic. 

"The kids really like small toys like hacky sacks, Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars and even pens, pencils and paper," said Major Roberts, assigned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "We get donations of these items from friends, families and organizations back in the states, but could always use more." 

As the VMO wound down in the early afternoon, one patient, an anti-Taliban master religious leader who has written a book about the terrorist group, said he understands the effects of what the U.S. and coalition are doing in his country. 

"The Taliban have threatened me, but I am not afraid," he said. "The Quran says that to kill is wrong." 

As an Air Force medic wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm, the religious leader said, "I'm happy you're here." 

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