International hospitals in Kabul do not allow cameras on their facilities because of cultural sensitivities. The treatment of female patients by male doctors is not universally accepted in this corner of the world. Educated families in Kabul have no problem with male doctors treating their woman; in the south men will fight to the death to avenge the slight to their family honor if a male doctor so much as looks at their woman. I have been to both the CURE hospital and the French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC) on the job and have a good idea about their missions and operations. I have a good friend who volunteers his time and skill at CURE which is how I was able to obtain these photos. There is also a German hospital in Kabul, but I have never visited it. There are no similar efforts by closer rich influential nations like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or China. I often wonder why?
Birth defects in Afghanistan are common. The culturally accepted practice of marrying within the family is generally believed to be the cause of this alarming problem. Last winter Phil Woolas, of the British Environmental Ministry ignited a fire storm by calling attention to the alarming rates of birth defects in the Pakistani community due to cousin marriages. Just raising issues like that in England is now grounds for dismissal. That to me is very strange.
In Afghanistan it is common to see children with club feet awkwardly moving down the street. I was born with a club foot. I read somewhere that former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aiken was too. Correcting that type of birth defect has been a routine procedure in the west for over a hundred years. Correcting those defects is not common here and when you see children with cleft palates or club foots on public they are not laughing and playing. They are out too stigmatized by their appearance in this culture. CURE hospital fixes cleft palates and club feet at no cost to the Afghan families daily. The demand far outstrips their capacity. Like their French counterpart, they also train Afghan doctors to do these procedures and over the years have developed some real talent in the Afghan medical community.
The heroes of this story are the doctors and nurses who volunteer their time and spend their own money to come here and do these procedures. They do not seek attention, they are not self promoters, they live outside the wire without any of the elaborate security procedures found in official US government programs. They come here to help and help they do. My Dad, who is a retired general officer (Marine of course), forwarded me an email he received from a friend about a highly qualified doctor sent to Kabul on a six month deployment. He related a story about going out to the main Kabul hospital to consult on an orthopedic case but getting there (about a mile away from his base) took days as the security escort package was arranged. When he arrived the head of the hospital served up tea and a good hour of chit chat, when the Americans asked to see the patient they came to examine they were told the child was sent to Pakistan for treatment days ago.
This is stupidity beyond measurement. I used to walk to work daily down the same streets he had to travel for his appointment because driving is such a nightmare in downtown Kabul. We are losing the war in Afghanistan and losing it fast and one reason for that is our military acts like force protection is mission number one. Guess what? If force protection is the mission it is easier to do that back in the United States. The US military sent a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon here for a six month tour and all he will do is go to Bagram (his first trip to Bagram took three days as he had to stage a day early at the Kabul military airfield which is half a mile away from his base and wait for a flight. We drive from Kabul to Bagram in 45 minutes) once a month to sit in conferences and suffer death by PowerPoint. His civilian counterparts who are here at their own expense and do not have armored trucks or armed escorts would operate on hundreds of patients and train scores of doctors if they could afford to stay six months. As a retired military officer it pains me to write this but it is true.
The doctors who volunteer at CURE also work on adults. Team Texas had a great plastic surgeon who replaced the ear of a truck driver who had lost his to a Taliban checkpoint in the south when he was stopped while hauling fuel for ISAF.
The men and women from France, Germany and America who come to this war torn land to help people who are so poor and need so much represent the best of what our countries stand for. To give so much and ask for nothing in return…that means something to me and should to you too. They do not get medals, or bands, or parades, or any formal recognition. They are heroes and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. They make all of us a little prouder and little better. May God watch over and bless them.