Medical Engagement More Than Just Health Care Mission

Story Number: NNS070621-08Release Date: 6/21/2007 6:33:00 PM
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By Army Spc. Matthew Leary, 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

MUSA KHEL, Afghanistan (NNS) -- Convoying from nearby Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno to Musa Khel District Health Center takes over two hours as the route lacks any built-up roads, snaking up steep mountain trails and jutting down into riverbed valleys, and slowing the pace of the convoy down to a crawl.

Upon arriving in Musa Khel, the health center appears to be barren. An Afghan National Policeman walks along the compound walls and a few local doctors step out of the health center itself, but no patients can be seen in the area.

For the Sailors, Soldiers and civilians from the Khost Provisional Reconstruction Team who have just endured the journey to get here, it appears today may not be very busy.

However, the main purpose of the June 3 medical engagement isn't really to see and treat patients, but to further the PRT's overall mission of assisting the Government of Afghanistan establish the necessary infrastructure to handle their own medical, agricultural and economic needs, said Cmdr. Dave Adams, PRT Khost commander.

Led by Cmdr. Adrienne J. Simmons, the PRT Khost medical officer in charge, a team of medical specialists is on site to do just that.

"The main reason we went out was to assess the clinic and give support to the local health care providers," she said.

But there is a palpable sense of disappointment amongst Simmons and some of the troops, for they had hopes of being able to bring some medical relief and joy to local villagers as well. Besides medicines and vaccinations, they have also brought along hygiene supplies and gifts bags to be distributed to the local children.

One of the local doctors said there may have been a miscommunication, and the town may be unaware of the additional medical services. As someone takes off to inform the local villagers, a brief tour of the facility is conducted.

"The facility, equipment and supplies were basic," Simmons said. "There was a lot of room for improvement."

The most notable problems were the absence of any power source and lack of medicines. While basic health care can be provided without electricity, many vaccinations and medicines need to be refrigerated, Simmons explained.

This is extremely detrimental for the children of Musa Khel, for whom vaccinations and immunizations are critically important, said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Glenn A. Ftacek Jr., a combat corpsman with the PRT.

"In Afghanistan the health care is limited and a lot of kids don't get seen," he said. "And with the living conditions, it's a haven for parasites."

Having planned for this eventuality there is a large stock of de-worming medicine packed away for this trip. Worms are a common disease in this part of the country, Ftacek added.

As the facility tour winds down the doctors are informed that a few Afghan citizens have shown up and the medical team will be able to see a few patients after all. Outside the clinic, the crowd begins to grow as a steady trickle of locals continues to arrive.

"We were told we would only be able to see a couple [of patients], but once they spread the word we were here more came," Ftacek said.

In less than an hour, approximately 50 children and adults had gathered outside.

Ftacek set up a station to administer a de-worming vaccination to children, while Simmons and Army Staff Sgt. Lorretta L. Myers, a medic with the 396th Combat Support Hospital, prepared an examination room to attend to the adults and provide more comprehensive medical aid.

Even the most basic of treatments were exacerbated by the need for a translator to facilitate even the most basic medical questions. Simmons and Myers spent the next few hours talking to patients with a variety of ailments ranging from asthma to serious burns on legs and arms.

In total, 140 children were administered de-worming doses and 30 adults were seen for primary care, Simmons said.

"I think it went very well," agreed Lt. Cmdr. Robert B. Traeder, an engineer with the PRT who assisted in giving out hygiene supplies. "It was fun because we had so many little kids coming through."

For Traeder, as for many of the service members there, the medical engagement was a chance to interact with the local populace, a sort of feel-good mission. Like others, Traeder packed his own stash of gifts, handing out pint-sized stuffed animals to several of the children. Interacting with the kids provided a gentle reminder of their own children back home, plus offered the feeling of making a difference in the lives of the youths.

"It's hard to know how much good you're doing with a tube of toothpaste and toothbrush, but at least you're spreading goodwill," Traeder said.

And spreading goodwill seems to be the true mission of the Khost PRT, although it is certainly not the official, military doctrine of what the PRT does.

"Our operation compliments the security operation," Adams explained.

While the hunt for Taliban forces may provide a life free of terrorism and intimidation for the citizens of Afghanistan, it alone will not give them the luxury of health benefits.

"The average lifespan in Afghanistan is 42 years old. It's very important we get the health sector up," Adams said. "When the average child only makes it to 40 -- that's my age -- that's no good."

And so that's what the PRT will continue to do, improve the agriculture, economy and health sectors of Afghanistan by working with the local governments and mentoring, Adams said.

The medical engagement provided not only an immediate benefit of direct medical care, but future benefits the PRT will arrange now that they have seen firsthand what the Musa Khel clinic can provide.

So although the route to Musa Khel is slow and treacherous, PRT Khost will continue to convoy there and to other districts in hopes of assisting the local governments improve their infrastructure. That's their overall goal, Simmons said.

"So that when we leave, the Afghan health care system will have a firm foundation," she said.

For more news from Provincial Reconstruction Team, Khost Afghanistan, visit Khost/.

Lt. Cmdr. Robert B. Traeder, an engineer with the Khost Provisional Reconstruction Team, prepares a bag of hygiene supplies for a young Afghan girl who attended a medical engagement held at the Mosa Khil Health Center in eastern Afghanistan.
070603-A-9185L-087 KHOST, Afghanistan (June 3, 2007) - Lt. Cmdr. Robert B. Traeder, an engineer with the Khost Provisional Reconstruction Team, prepares a bag of hygiene supplies for a young Afghan girl who attended a medical engagement held at the Mosa Khil Health Center in eastern Afghanistan. The Khost PRT gave out hygiene supplies and administered de-worming medication to more than 140 kids during the event. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Leary (RELEASED)
June 11, 2007
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