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August 19, 2009 > Jalalabad, Afghanistan - A People and a Hospital in Need

Jalalabad, Afghanistan - A People and a Hospital in Need

For more than three decades, military conflict has devastated the land and the people of Afghanistan. In the 1980s and 1990s, the health system was destroyed and conditions became so intolerable that most Afghan medical professionals left the country. According to the World Health Organization, more than 65 percent of Afghans lack access to health facilities and only 32 percent of children are immunized against childhood diseases.

In 2002, Assist International, Rotary International and Washington Hospital began working as partners to bring supplies, food, and literally tons of medical equipment to Kabul, Afghanistan. Inspired by the accomplishments in Kabul, a new project has taken shape.

Rebuilding Jalalabad Hospital
Assist International, The Rotary Club of Pleasanton and Washington Hospital are now working to bring desperately needed medical supplies and equipment to the public hospital in Jalalabad. Afghanistan's second largest city, Jalalabad is located in a very volatile trade route that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan to the outside world.

But the hospital severely lacks crucial medical equipment. Recently, an assessment team of Assist International and Rotary Club of Pleasanton discovered that although the Jalalabad facility has more than 450 patient beds and has a medical staff eager to provide the highest quality care, there is absolutely no cardiac monitoring capability in the Post Operation Ward Intensive Care Unit, the Critical Care Unit, or the Neo-Natal ICU.

Conditions are so severe that, during the team's tour of the Jalalabad Hospital pediatric ward, a baby suddenly died in the presence of a helpless nurse and the team. A cardiac monitor would have alerted the staff to the infant's condition and may have saved its life.

"They need eight full parameter cardiac care monitors with a new central station to help evaluate the patients," says Bob Pagett, President and CEO of Assist International. "The goal of the project is to make sure the hospital is fully equipped to take care of the critical care patients."

"Well trained doctors are working just with their skills, but with no supporting infrastructure of equipment," says Jim Stunkel, a San Jose Fire Department Battalion Chief and Assist International representative. "There's no cardiac monitoring, there's nothing much more often than simply a blood pressure cuff to even monitor the condition of the patient."

Stunkel has travelled to Afghanistan and has witnessed children dying right in front of him because there was no equipment available to save them. He says that often times, patients are lost because there are no alarms, alerts or any monitoring that can be done to advise the doctors that the patient is in distress.

"That's one of the reasons why Afghanistan unfortunately has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world," he says. "But if we can deliver this equipment, we can make a different there, we can save lives."

Impact on the Local Afghan Community
For Dr. Kadeer Halimi, the Jalalabad Hospital Project is especially meaningful. A Washington Hospital emergency physician, Halimi went back to Afghanistan while he was in medical school to care for patients in refugee camps and he says basic health care is often not available to people.

"There are very few hospitals and some people must go to neighboring countries for decent health care," Halimi says. "Providing ICU monitors to the hospital in Jalalabad will enable physicians to better take care of the patients. By providing these monitors, not only are they going to have better care, but ultimately we'll be saving lives as well."

Halimi came to the United States as a 10-year-old in the 1980s and he says that he feels an added sense of responsibility to take the opportunity to support the people of Afghanistan.

"The United States has provided me with a great opportunity to go to school and educate myself as a physician," he says. "Now I want to give back not only to the people of the land I come from but I also want to help the people here in the U.S. who are trying to help the people in Afghanistan."

Volunteers are Ready to Go
"We have the volunteers ready to go and do the work and take whatever is needed to go to Jalalabad," says Stunkel. "The plans are set. We simply need the funds to make this project a reality."

Biomedical engineers from Boston will install the monitors and a trauma nurse will go along as part of the team. Pagett says they have all gone to Afghanistan before and they all want to go back.

"When you have people willing to take risks and are willing to go with the kind of knowledge and medical understanding that they have, I tell you, it warms the heart," he says. "It makes you realize that there are people in the Unites States who want to make a difference."

How You Can Help
The hospital in Jalalabad desperately needs cardiac monitoring equipment and that's where you can help. We are hopeful that, in cooperation with our project partners, we can make a meaningful contribution to the effort to re-build the healthcare infrastructure of Afghanistan.

To make a donation, call (800) 833-1894 or visit: www.afghanhospital.org. You can also mail a check or money order payable to: Rotary District 5170 Foundation, P.O. Box 10955, Pleasanton, CA 94588.

The Rotary District 5170 Foundation is a 501C-3, tax-exempt "charitable organization." All donations will receive a tax-deductible receipt. Your contribution will provide a modern cardiac care system for the Jalalabad Hospital. Lives will be saved.

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