U.S. Health Secretary renews commitment to improving Afghan health

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to help Afghanistan restore its health care infrastructure, crippled by long years of war and neglect. Thompson offered those assurances to Afghan President Hamid Karzai February 27 as the foreign leader visited Washington.
"We are committed to building the public health infrastructure in Afghanistan to give women access to quality medical care and children a healthier start in life," said Thompson in a statement released by HHS after the meeting.

HHS is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to restore the maternal and child health section of Kabul's Rabia Balkhi hospital. The plan also calls for establishing four maternal-child clinics in rural areas where medical training will be provided along with health care. Medical education suffered serious setbacks during the Taliban era, so training is considered a key element in long-term restoration of Afghanistan's health care infrastructure.

Following is the HHS text:

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February 27, 2003


Secretary Tommy G. Thompson met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today and renewed the department's commitment to promote health in Afghanistan -- including training, staffing and working with the Department of Defense to rebuild a women's hospital in Kabul.

Secretary Thompson and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed in November to begin the rehabilitation of the maternal and child health section of Kabul's Rabia Balkhi hospital, with plans to expand to four maternal-child clinics in rural communities, as part of the administration's commitment to assisting the people of Afghanistan. The Department of Defense (DoD) is refurbishing the facility, while HHS is designing a training course in obstetrics and gynecology for the physicians at Rabia Balkhi to begin in mid-April 2003.

"It is an honor to see my friend President Karzai again, and I look forward to building on our efforts to improving maternal and child health in Afghanistan," Secretary Thompson said. "We are committed to building the public health infrastructure in Afghanistan to give women access to quality medical care and children a healthier start in life. And there is no better way to do that than to build better facilities and to train better doctors, nurses and midwives."

The project is a direct result of Secretary Thompson visit to Afghanistan last October, when he saw firsthand 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 Rumsfeld and Colin Powell -- to put together a maternal and child health initiative.

President Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget request includes $5 million to complete the project. Nearly $3 million of that money 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.

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.

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.

HHS has been active in Afghanistan since November 2001 conducting health care assessments and assisting in immunization campaigns.

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 clinics 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.

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.

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.

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