More, perhaps, than any other country in the world, Afghanistan is associated with war. It is a nation of broken cities, shattered lives and a centuries-old culture of armed resistance. Yet in Afghanistan, people live, go to school, get married, grow old. They find themselves in need of medical attention – and not just because there is a war on.
Among Afghanistan’s myriad challenges, bringing gastroenterological care to those who need it is not the least – although it may be one of the most overlooked. In a population of over 30 million, there are only 25 Endoscopists. Most doctors survive on a salary of just $50 per month.
And yet, there is hope, and progress. With the assistance of the late Professor Wienbeck, a retired Professor of Gastroenterology, the Afghanistan Gastroenterology and Endoscopy Society (AGES) was established in 2006, and is running successfully today, albeit with minimal resources. Dr. Khawaja Qamaruddin Sediqi of AGES was one of the organisation's founders. He has outlined some of the challenges faced by the profession in Afghanistan: “The Government is able to maintain only the essential needs of state hospitals,” ... “And health sector donors are able to fund capacity building only for basic and public health, not secondary or tertiary care. Of our 34 provinces, so far only 4 are covered by the Wienbeck foundation.”
And while there exists tremendous capacity internationally for the funding of young researchers in the field of Gastroenterology, the primary and low-level research of which professionals are capable in Afghanistan are not attractive to funders, and AGES is unable to access research grants.
Training is another challenge. As a member Society of WGO, OMED and APSDE, AGES is often invited to attend international workshops and council or committee meetings. But conditions in Afghanistan make it almost impossible for them to afford the cost of the participating in events abroad – and here, there are no medical companies to sponsor doctors’ trips. “As a minimum, AGES needs travel grants for 4-5 persons per year,” says Dr Sediqi, “and for the running of the Endoscopy training courses – for which a sum of no more than $40 000 is needed.”
With the death of Professor Wienbeck, Gastroenterological professionals in Afghanistan lost a true champion and a great friend. It is up to the international community of donors to take up his cause in any way they feel able.
The above illustrates an example of how together we can provide hope amid the destruction and help to build up a highly-trained group of gastroenterologists who will serve Afghanistan.