Children line up for medical care during a Coalition medical outreach in a village near Afganistan’s Tag Ab Valley.
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (April 29, 2008) – Several hundred citizens from a village near Tag Ab Valley, Kapisa province, swarmed a makeshift hospital hosted by Task Force Gladiator servicemembers, April 19, during a village medical outreach.
The event’s primary goal was to connect Afghans living near Tag Ab to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through humanitarian-aid operations, with the assistance of village elders and Afghan National Police.
Upon arrival at the site, ANP 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.
“That is one of the reasons Cooperative Medical Assistance, now [called] Task Force MED Medical Augmentation Team, was created,” said Navy Lt. Tammy Felker, 451st Civil Affairs Battalion, Women’s Health Clinic officer in charge.
“We are an agile unit that can augment with U.S. and Coalition forces throughout theater to do medical engagements,” she said. “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, there was a long line of women and girls waiting to be seen at the clinic.
“When twenty plus people are waiting for care, our focus is to try to treat them all,” said Felker. “The [ultimate] goal is to let them know we care.”
Lt. 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 Burqa.
The children received doses of de-worming medication and multi-vitamins. The anti-worm tonic, has a similar consistency to Pepto Bismal, but is an off-white color, and helps protect children from undercooked meat.
According to Felker, eating undercooked meat, handling livestock and other animals, and the lack of water and soap, greatly contribute to the chances of contracting worms. The de-worming medication is designed to eradicate worms inside the body, but it is not a foolproof measure, as it is easy to contract the worms again.
In addition to any medications needed for an individual, each patient, even those not displaying any symptoms, received a small bottle of lotion and chapstick. Children also received a toy, until the supply was depleted.
Chapstick is one of the most sought-after items, said Army Pfc. Rebecca Ploharz, Task Force Med medic. The elements and high wind in the mountains cause painful chapping and chapstick alleviates that problem.
There are some patients who come in with serious medical issues. Some Felker was able to diagnose and treat. One little girl came in with Leishmaniasis on her face. Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by infected sand fleas.
Although some of the more pressing issues were too complicated for a field hospital and doctors gave patients referrals to hospitals.
The most common problems were female-exclusive, including but not limited to, problems with previous and current pregnancies and back pain.
“The women’s and children clinic is so important because often times 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 locals, 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.