U.S. earmarks funds to improve health of Afghan women

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced January 27 that the Bush administration proposes to donate $5 million in 2004 toward the improvement of women's health care in Afghanistan.
According to an HHS press release, the funding proposed in the Bush administration budget for the upcoming year would be devoted to improvements and reconstruction at the Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital in Kabul and to create four satellite clinics for maternal and child health to be located in rural areas. The Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital delivers about 40 babies a day.

Repeated studies have shown a serious decline in the quality and availability of health care for Afghan women in recent years. Thompson visited the country in October and saw firsthand the needs.

"This funding is a critical step in delivering on our promise to improve health care in Afghanistan," Thompson said. "Not only will these facilities provide much needed care, but it will also supplement the growing infrastructure of this war-torn nation."

The following is the text of the press release:

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January 27, 2003


HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced today that President Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget will include $5 million to complete the rebuilding and improvement of the Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital in Kabul and create four satellite clinics for maternal and child health as part of the administration's commitment to assist the people of Afghanistan.

These initiatives are a direct result of Secretary Thompson's visit to Afghanistan in October, when he saw first hand the dire need to immediately rebuild the nation's public health infrastructure -- especially in the area of maternal and child health. The Secretary came back and worked with his colleagues -- Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell -- to put together a maternal and child health initiative.

Currently, 40 percent of deaths among women of childbearing age in Afghanistan are caused by preventable complications related to childbirth. In addition, an estimated one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday.

"We are keeping President Bush's commitment to the people of Afghanistan to make their country stronger, healthier and more free," Secretary Thompson said. "This investment means that thousands of women and children will live to see a brighter tomorrow in Afghanistan. And these teaching clinics will prepare a new generation of doctors, nurses and midwives to perform critical birth and childcare procedures, allowing them to go throughout the country helping mothers and children."

HHS has been active in Afghanistan since November 2001 conducting health care assessments and assisting in immunization campaigns. The first phase of this new activity is the refurbishment, in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), of Kabul's largest women's hospital -- a process already underway and scheduled to be completed early this year. Nearly $3 million of the fiscal year 2004 funding will go to purchasing equipment, drugs, supplies and teaching materials; improving laboratory capabilities; paying staff and training Afghan health care workers. The remaining $2 million will be used to staff and equip the four satellite clinics throughout Afghanistan. Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital, which admits nearly 36,000 patients each year and delivers about 40 babies a day, will serve as a base of operations for the four teaching clinics in Afghanistan's rural areas. Each teaching clinic would be managed on-site by a non-governmental organization with extensive experience in providing training and clinical services in Afghanistan. DoD and the U.S. Agency for International Development are assisting HHS in establishing these maternal and child health clinics and teaching centers in Afghanistan.

The maternal and child health teaching clinics will be an important element in the United States' contribution to rebuilding the health care infrastructure of Afghanistan. During the Taliban occupation, medical schools and medical professionals were deprived of the necessary tools and textbooks needed to ensure that physicians, nurses, and other health care providers had the proper training.

"This funding is a critical step in delivering on our promise to improve health care in Afghanistan," Secretary Thompson said. "Not only will these facilities provide much needed care, but it will also supplement the growing infrastructure of this war-torn nation. We are planting the seeds of independence and self-sufficiency for the people of Afghanistan."

Lack of medical training is a well-recognized need throughout Afghanistan. The teaching clinic will provide an opportunity to train physicians, nurses and midwives in a clinical environment that is appropriate for the situation currently in Afghanistan. HHS and the Afghan Ministry of Health have agreed to develop a training program at Rabia Bahlki Hospital to train physicians, nurses, nurse midwives, physician assistants and a variety of technicians. After training, the health care workers will go to remote areas of Afghanistan to train local health care staffs.

In addition to training of local health care providers, the clinics will also serve as an entry point for expatriate Afghan physicians and nurses on short-term assignments to Afghanistan.

During Secretary Thompson's October visit to Afghanistan, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Afghan Ministry of Health to improve maternal and child health; assist in securing and restoring the hospital infrastructure; design safe water and sanitation systems; conduct epidemiological assessments; and provide training in mental health services.

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(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: