Medical support is a Big Deal in Afghanistan, providing perhaps the best return on investment of anything the Coalition is doing. This is largely because, in an academic sense, medicine is one of the few areas where we – the Coalition and Afghan central government – have a ‘significant and useful asymmetrical advantage’ over the insurgents. Or said another way, where we can do stuff for the Afghan population that the insurgents can’t.
See, the insurgents can provide justice…in a way. A brutal, nasty way to be sure, but justice nonetheless. And they can provide jobs and economic benefits…in a way. Of course they’re jobs founded on opium and blood money, but they’re jobs nonetheless. And they can provide security…in a way. Insurgent security is pretty much just a protection racket, but still, it’s security. Regarding medicine though, the insurgents can’t do jack. And the Afghan government can.
Most Coalition medical professionals are focused on providing medical services to Afghans – from trauma care and evacuation to preventative medicine – throughout Afghanistan. But there’s also a team of 160 military members and 15 contractors focused on the medical systems of the Afghan National Security Forces: NTM-A/CSTC-A‘s Medical Training and Advisory Group, or MTAG.
MTAG advisers face TONS of challenges in Afghanistan. Many clinics are difficult to locate and assess due to security issues or their remote locations. Many are severely understaffed or not staffed with qualified personnel. And many are simply inadequate…for the current patient load, let alone the load expected as we continue to grow the Afghan National Security Forces.
But the MTAG team is making progress. They’re training doctors, nurses, medical logisticians, combat medics, and trauma assistance personnel. They’re purchasing pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, radios, and ambulances for use by ANA and ANP medical providers. And perhaps most importantly, they’re working with the medical staffs of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, with USAID, and with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to build the lasting institutions of a sustainable medical system.
Afghanistan’s Armed Forces Academy of Medical Sciences runs a 7-year program here in Kabul. Almost unbelievably, the second class will graduate in just a few months.
Bottom line: With perseverance like that, it’s no surprise the MTAG team believes quality health care, sustainable resources and personnel, and accessible care for ANA and ANP beneficiaries are achievable. Even in Afghanistan.
* DoD photo by SSgt Angelita Lawrence, USAF, from DefenseImagery
** DoD photo by SGT Teddy Wade, USA, from DefenseImagery