The clinical instructor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, returned last week after a monthlong medical mission in Afghanistan. A volunteer with Medical Teams International, Chan treated children and trained physicians at CURE Hospital in Kabul amid dire poverty, Taliban insurgency and damage inflicted by 30 years of war.
How have the wars affected health care in Afghanistan? They have completely demolished the infrastructure to the point where many health problems are being caused by the lack of clean water and access to health care. There’s actually very good medical care in Kabul, with many hospitals funded by other countries as close to state-of-the-art as you can expect in a developing country. But once you get out of Kabul, there’s very little access to health care. In rural areas, children will die simply of dehydration or from being cold.
What are some of the roadblocks to treatment? For people in rural villages, getting treatment means multiple-day bus rides to Kabul. If they’re ethnically targeted by the Taliban, they can’t really leave their home. They’ll be captured or killed.
What kinds of illnesses or injuries were most common? You see the whole spec-trum. There’s a lot of basic dehydration, pneumonia, tuberculosis, complications of prematurity and childbirth. There were cases of women walking in with very advanced breast cancer because of the difficulty of getting care.
Did anything give you hope? They’re warm and friendly and hopeful people, despite all that they’ve gone through in the last 30 years. The hospital runs a training program for medical school graduates and their thirst for knowledge was incredible.
Check out more 3-minute interviews from our San Francisco newsroom.