News: Undeterred MTAG Makes a Difference
Story by Lt. Russell Wolfkiel
KABUL, Afghanistan -- After a devastating suicide attack at National Military Hospital the Medical Training Advisory Group continues to mentor Afghan medical professionals.
MTAG provides mentors and training to the Afghan National Army Medical Corps as they work toward medical self-sufficiency. Their classes are largely conducted on the NMH compound in Kabul. Saturday, May 21, a suicide bomber attacked the NMH trainees at their dining facility killing six students and injuring many more, but the members of MTAG are undaunted in their desire to help.
“I think this mission is very important and very valuable to Afghanistan”, said Navy Lt. Jeremy Young, certified registered nurse anesthetist mentor. “The way they care for their soldiers, who are actively defending the freedom of Afghanistan, makes our mission worth it. They are worth our time, energy and insight. For them to have the sense that they are not in this alone has a huge impact. We are ‘shona ba shona,’ shoulder to shoulder with them.”
In many ways, Afghan medical care is decades behind U.S. care. The first challenge that mentors face is going back to the basic fundamentals of modern medical care.
“Things we’ve identified as being critical [are] cleanliness and sterilization,” said Young. “Before we got here, they didn’t sterilize their surgical instruments.”
Immediate gains made through basic improvements give the team credibility with the Afghans.
“Through cleanliness, sterilization, nutrition and safety these things will show immediate return. We have got to have the things we work on provide immediate gratification for them or else they don’t trust us,” said Young.
The Afghans working at NMH are enthusiastic to improve the quality of the care they provide.
Young pointed out the sterilization department. “We’ve had successes here. Let me tell you about sterilization. If you want sterile equipment, the only place in Kabul you’re going to get it is down there. That’s it.”
According to Cmdr. Diane Capri, the sterilization team at NMH did a great job at improving their capability.
“This is the department” Capri also said. “This is also the cleanest department. These guys wash their hands they have their chemicals, everything is organized, logbooks for sterilizer A and sterilizer B. Everything is logged in, they test the sterilizers every day to make sure they are up and running. This is the way it is supposed to work.”
“This is as good as we’re going to get right now until they remodel the whole hospital,” said Capri. “They have worked phenomenally hard on their own; there are only four guys here. They’re really proud of their department.”
Training the Afghans to be self sufficient is still the number one goal of the MTAG team.
“They like to be known as the best,” Young said, “And so, we keep showing them we’re not going to do this for you, you have to do it. But we’re going to guide you, mentor you in a good direction that is safe and effective.”
The team, however, always has their sights set on the ultimate goal of teaching the Afghans to be self sufficient.
“…We’ve got to get to the root of the problem which is not doing surgery with sterile equipment,” said Young. “Fix that, then cut down the risk of getting an infection from surgery.”
“When [the patients] get [to the ward], change how they do wound care. Get them better faster get them back to either their kandak [Afghan battalion] or home. Once you start doing that, you are going to have fewer people in the hospital which means you have more personnel and resources to apply to more complex problems.”