Coalition treats Afghans in medical outreach effort

News and Press Release
Originally published
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By Army Capt. Elizabeth Casebeer
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, April 28, 2008 - Several hundred citizens from a village near Tag Ab Valley in Afghanistan's Kapisa province swarmed a makeshift hospital April 19 during a village medical outreach hosted by Task Force Gladiator servicemembers.

The event's primary goal was to connect Afghans living near Tag Ab to the Afghan government through humanitarian-aid operations, with the assistance of village elders and Afghan National Police.

Upon arrival at the site, Afghan and coalition forces set up a small tent and made a wall with ponchos to segregate the women's section from the men's.

Provincial reconstruction teams run many medical outreaches, but few employ female health providers due to the types of missions the PRTs conduct, said Navy Lt. Tammy Felker, 451st Civil Affairs Battalion's women's health clinic officer in charge. 'That is one of the reasons cooperative medical assistance, now [called] Task Force Med Medical Augmentation Team, was created,' she said.

'We are an agile unit that can augment with U.S. and coalition forces throughout the theater to do medical engagements,' she explained. 'The goal is to increase friendly relations between the Afghan people and the U.S. and coalition forces.'

After the makeshift hospital was set up, a few women and children began to trickle in. But before long, a long line of women and girls was waiting to be seen at the clinic.

'When 20-plus people are waiting for care, our focus is to try to treat them all,' Felker said. 'The goal is to let them know we care.'

Felker and other providers were only able to treat six people at a time due to the size of the work area, but provided medical care to nearly 160 women and children. The patients all came on foot, and all the adult women, save the elderly, arrived in chadri, an Afghan style of dress similar to the burqa.

The children received doses of de-worming medication and multi-vitamins.

In addition to any medications needed for an individual, each patient received a small bottle of lotion and some lip balm. Children also received a toy, until the supply was depleted. Lip balm is one of the most sought-after items, because the elements and high wind in the mountains cause painful chapping, Army Pfc. Rebecca Ploharz, a Task Force Med medic, said.

Some of the more pressing issues were too complicated for a field hospital, so doctors gave patients referrals to hospitals capable of providing a higher level of care.

'The women's and children clinic is so important, because oftentimes it is the first time many of the women and children are seeing a medical provider,' said Felker, who hopes Afghanistan's medical system will continue to grow.

Felker said she takes a special pride in assisting the local people, but her ultimate wish is that more female Afghan doctors will be available throughout the country.

'It is important that the children of Afghanistan see women in professional roles,' she said.

(Army Capt. Elizabeth Casebeer serves in the Task Force Cincinnatus Public Affairs Office.)