Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported on revelations of gross negligence and criminal mistreatment of patients at Dawood National Military Hospital, the Afghan military’s main hospital. American military officers serving as mentors in the hospital discovered last year that patients in the hospital, where the salaries are subsidized by the US, were being forced to pay bribes to receive food and even basic care:
A beefed-up group of at least two dozen U.S. military mentors had arrived at the hospital in August 2010 as part of the “surge” of American forces in Afghanistan. They began to deploy throughout the wards, replacing an earlier group that had less direct contact with patients.
By the following month, the new mentors began to document what they describe as horrific conditions. Maggots fed off patients’ open wounds. Nurses and doctors refused to help amputees to the bathroom, and they soiled their beds for days.
Several patients died of simple infections because their bandages would go unchanged for weeks, while at least four died of complications related to malnourishment, according to mentors and internal documents.
The US military is reportedly now conducting a full-court push to improve conditions in the hospital.
While clinicians might get the bad press, blame for the tragedy at Dawood National Military Hospital must also be directed at the hospital’s administrators. Time and again I find that the success of post-conflict health reconstruction is determined not by the number of beds in a country, but the presence of strong and responsible health administrators willing and able to manage and enforce the requisite standards of care. Although not as sexy as training health practitioners, the education and training of health administrators is often more important.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.