U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Devin Donnelly (left) and Maj. Lena Soto inspect a treatment room at the Jegdalak medical health center.
JEGDALAK, Afghanistan (May 31, 2008) – Appearances can be deceiving. The Jegdalak medical health center, standing alone atop a rock-strewn hill overlooking Jegdalak, looks nothing like a medical facility. The clinic, however, serves a remote region of more than 30,000 Afghans.
Located approximately 100 miles east of Kabul, traveling to this remote clinic from Kabul is a challenge in itself.
Lt. Cmdr. Dan Patterson, Navy Lt. Anthony Dotson, Air Force Maj. Lena Soto and their inspection team, made the trip recently to determine if the clinic adequately meets the needs of the local populace. The clinic, funded by various humanitarian organizations, is regularly inspected by Patterson’s medical team.
“I oversee funding for various humanitarian assistance construction projects such as this clinic,” said Patterson, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan Surgeon General office.
Opened just a month ago, the clinic’s small staff has already provided medical treatment to more than 1,400 Afghans who until recently had virtually no access to proper medical care.
“To the Afghans, these new clinics are revolutionary,” Patterson said. “In the past we have set up programs that delivered more than 2,750 vaccines to people who otherwise would not have been inoculated.”
Patterson also serves as his team’s senior advisor to the Afghan ministry of public health.
“These are projects that directly impact the health needs of the Afghan people,” he said. “In some of the more remote villages, the Taliban told these people their government didn’t care about them. We came (with medical aid), and we proved them wrong.”
Building on this success, Soto, nurse advisor with the CSTC-A Command Surgeon’s office and ministry of public health, said one of the biggest challenges is changing some of the prevailing attitudes.
“Reinforcing new attitudes is imperative,” Soto said. “Of the Afghan nursing teams I have worked with, we have had to train and re-train them on the need for sterility, proper housekeeping and providing better bedside manners to their patients.”
Soto said she believes education is the key.
“We need to start with the children and move forward. The Afghans are willing to learn the basics,” Soto said. “They are interested in change, but change will not come quickly. We need more teachers and more people willing to work as trainers.”
With $5 million allocated for new and current programs, both Patterson and Soto are hopeful their efforts will lead to more improvements in the Afghans’ quality of life.
Patterson said success is measured in small steps.
“Recently, we had an instance where, because of the clinic, a young girl’s life was saved,”
Patterson said. “The girl’s family traveled to the clinic, and the child was diagnosed with appendicitis. She was transported to a hospital in Kabul for treatment.”
According to Patterson, the hospital staff in Kabul disagreed with the clinic’s diagnosis and sent her back to Jegdalak. Upon her return, she was re-tested, and the Jegdalak doctors confirmed their original diagnosis. They insisted she needed an appendectomy and sent her to another hospital in Kabul.
This time the surgeons operated just in time to remove the girl’s infected appendix.
“If not for the clinic, this young girl would have died,” Patterson said.
“We are finding ways to help the Afghans become self-sufficient.”