Kabul: A city in intensive care

Al Jazeera's David Foster writes about his experiences in the Afghan capital.

    Afghans are receiving international medical aid and 
    infant mortality has fallen by 20 per cent [EPA]
    Al Jazeera is reporting all week from Afghanistan in a series of special programmes and reports.

    David Foster, one of the channel's presenters, is posting a daily diary on his experiences of Kabul, a city of contrasts. He writes:

    We are at a clinic on the outskirts of Kabul where Afghan men, women and children are queuing-up outside in the blazing sun to be treated for Leishmaniasis.

    It was upsetting to watch - it must have been terrifying for the children being treated.

    The syringe was inserted four times. In the case of two babies, so close to their eyes that one slip would have been disastrous.

    The screaming didn't stop.

    'Terrible scars'

    Leishmaniasis is a disease carried by sand flies and those who are bitten get ulcers on their skin which can leave terrible scars.

    Afghan Week

    Part one of David Foster's Kabul diary

    If caught early in can be treated, but many of those here have been bitten time and again over the years. Some of the children are badly disfigured.

    Jamila is 10 and would be a beautiful young woman in a few years. Her face, however, is pitted with scars.

    On one cheek there are raised lesions which run for more than 10 centimetres. They will never go away, but her mother's brought her here so other ulcers can receive treatment.

    This young girl's tears are not because of the needle, I suspect, but because she knows why we're filming. 

    It makes me uncomfortable about what we're doing because she is right.

    She's already marked out as different. Girls with scars, we're told, will probably never marry.

    Improving signs

    The reason we're here, though, is not to highlight other people's misfortunes, but to show that there is some sort of healthcare emerging in Afghanistan.

    What I find encouraging is that this isn't to save lives, but simply to help.

    Later as I talk to Chris Alexander from the UN he tells me that infant mortality rates have improved by 20 per cent in the last few years.

    But that doesn't impress Mullah Zaeef, a former Taliban diplomat who's with us. He's had to send his daughter to Pakistan for heart treatment, he says. Nothing here has got better, he complains.

    It's a country in transition.

    Civilian deaths

    I record an interview with General Dan Mcneill who's in charge of the International Security Assistance Force, with Nato forces under his command, and ask him what improvements there've been.

    He mentions irrigation, clean water projects and new schools.

    It will take time, he insists.

    We talk about those who are losing their lives, the civilian deaths that have increased with the aerial bombing campaign by foreign forces.

    Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, insists the civilian casualties must stop and the Afghan Senate has said all foreign offensive operations must end.

    We take every precaution to avoid such incidents, but war's not a precise science, says the general.

    At the clinic, many of those receiving treatment are refugees returning home.

    They've come back expecting a better life, for things to improve.

    In some ways they already have, as their medical attention today shows.

    But in many ways they haven't yet, and I'm left asking myself how long these people will have to wait for a tomorrow which holds real hope.

    Click here for more on Al Jazeera's news and focus on Afghanistan.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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