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Afghanistan: access to medical facilities a challenge in Helmand

18-02-2010 Operational Update No 03/10

With fighting continuing in Helmand province and the area's main roads contaminated with improvised explosive devices, it is difficult for the sick and wounded to reach medical facilities.

 
Humanitarian situation  

As fighting continues, the ICRC is focusing on evacuating and treating the sick and wounded. Two hospitals in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and in Kandahar have been receiving patients from the area where fighting is most intense, but movement through the area is dangerous, making it difficult for the sick and wounded to get the care they need.

According to ICRC staff on the ground, the 40 km road between Marjah and Lashkar Gah is littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and is closed to traffic. Alternative routes exist but they are also contaminated with IEDs and require long detours, severely delaying the transfer of patients.

Despite these difficulties, the ICRC evacuated nine war-wounded patients to Lashkar Gah's hospital two days ago. The ICRC notified the passage of the convoy to all parties in advance, urging them to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law by ensuring that it passed rapidly and safely. The patients arrived at the hospital late on the evening of 16 February and are now receiving treatment. Since then, the ICRC has continued its efforts to rapidly evacuate more people in urgent need of medical care.

The ICRC operates a first-aid post in Marjah and staff there have been treating the sick and wounded since the onset of the current military oper ation. Movement in Marjah is difficult due to fighting and IEDs, and ICRC first-aid personnel have been treating some patients in their homes, as those in need of care are often unable to move about or afraid to do so.

The ICRC calls on the armed opposition, the Afghan National Army and Police and international military forces to ensure that the conduct of military operations does not unduly affect access to medical care. The organization further calls on all these parties to facilitate the safe passage of sick and wounded persons to medical facilities at all times.

For several years, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have been helping people displaced by the conflict in Helmand. Many families in the areas affected by fighting are currently seeking refuge with relatives and family members. The ICRC does not know how many families have been displaced in recent days.

 
Facts and figures  
  • There are currently five ICRC staff in Marjah, operating a first-aid post.

  • The ICRC has 50 staff in Lashkar Gah.

  • Since the onset of the current military operation, the ICRC has evacuated nine patients and is treating people in Marjah itself. Figures are unavailable at this point.

  • Between 13 and 17 February, nine war casualties were admitted to Kandahar's Mirwais hospital, which the ICRC is supporting. These relatively low numbers confirm that it is difficult for people to move around safely in the area.

 

For further information, pl ease contact:  Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 282 719
 Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2426 or +41 79 251 9302