Afghanistan: war wounded and newborns struggle for survival in Mirwais Hospital

19-05-2011 Operational Update

Living a normal life remains a huge challenge for ordinary Afghans. With fighting widespread, health care for the sick and wounded remains one of the ICRC's main priorities.

On 7 and 8 May, the police headquarters in Kandahar, the National Directorate of Security, the governor’s compound and other locations all came under attack. An ICRC team of expatriate and national staff including a surgeon, operating theatre nurse, ward nurse and a hospital manager supported the personnel of Mirwais regional hospital as they treated over 70 people. More than half of these people had gunshot wounds, while the rest had been injured in explosions.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day work continued. The wards are full and increasing numbers of women are giving birth at the hospital.

A woman gave birth to twins on 8 April, each weighing just 600 grammes, which is considered an extremely low birthweight by any standard. Sadly, one child died, but the other survived and was put in an incubator. Thanks to the skills of a combined team from the paediatrics and obstetrics departments, the little boy gained a kilogram in weight, and was discharged on 16 May weighing 1.6 kg. “Even in the most modern of hospitals such a success would be rare. That the child survived is testimony to the dedication and skill of the Mirwais staff,” said Daniel Cavoli, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Kandahar.

Over the years, as well as training doctors and nurses in paediatric care, the ICRC has supplied Mirwais with essential equipment for looking after newborns, such as incubators, oxygen concentrators, phototherapy lamps and baby warmers.

Visiting places of detention and restoring family links

The ICRC is mandated to monitor the conditions and treatment of detainees in places of detention worldwide. In Afghanistan, ICRC delegates regularly visit prisons run by nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), by US forces and by the Afghan authorities. The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to stay in touch with one another, and endeavours to trace missing persons.

During March and April 2011, ICRC staff:

  • carried out 38 visits to 35 places of detention;
  • monitored the cases of 725 detainees, visiting 251 of them for the first time;
  • paid the transport costs for five ex-detainees to return to their home villages;
  • collected 2,363 Red Cross messages and distributed 2,244, mostly between detainees and their families, with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent;
  • facilitated 952 video telephone calls between families and relatives held in the US-run Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield;
  • provided transportation to enable the families of 207 detainees held in the Parwan facility to visit their relatives in person.

Providing health care

The ICRC provides medicines and medical support to Sheberghan Hospital in the north and Mirwais Regional Hospital in the south, both of which are run by the Ministry of Public Health. Over 20 expatriate doctors, nurses and administrative personnel are supporting the staff at Mirwais. The ICRC also provides technical and financial support to 10 Afghan Red Crescent clinics, and to community-based first-aid volunteers who deliver health care to people in conflict-affected areas. The organization delivers drugs and non-medical items to three health clinics in the south and east once a month. In addition, the ICRC runs four first-aid posts, one in the west and three in the south. During March and April, Mirwais and Sheberghan Hospitals admitted over 5,030 inpatients and held 28,770 outpatient consultations between them. More than 2,180 surgical operations were performed in the two hospitals.

In addition, during the same period, the ICRC:

  • distributed kits to the front lines to treat people injured in the fighting;
  • provided first-aid training for 71 combatants, doctors, police and community-based first aid volunteers.

Providing limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services

In Afghanistan, the ICRC runs seven physical rehabilitation centres, which provide rehabilitation services for amputees and others with disabilities. The organization supports the social reintegration of disabled people, ranging from landmine victims to those with a motor impairment. The ICRC also runs a home-care service offering medical, economic and social support for patients with spinal cord injuries. The organization has been providing these services in Afghanistan for over 20 years.

During March and April, the seven ICRC centres:

  • registered over 1,260 new patients, including 217 amputees;
  • assisted 12,735 patients;
  • fitted over 2,380 prostheses and orthotic devices;
  • held over 34,700 physiotherapy sessions;
  • granted micro-credit loans to approximately 110 patients to help them start small business ventures;
  • provided vocational training for 224 patients, 47 of whom completed their training during this period;
  • conducted over 1,200 home visits to patients with spinal cord injuries.

Distributing food and other forms of aid

Distributing food and non-food items to families displaced by conflict or natural disaster remains one of the ICRC’s major activities in Afghanistan. This service comprises emergency food distribution, 'food for work' projects, and support for agriculture and livestock programmes. The ICRC provides aid to displaced communities in close cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

During March and April, the ICRC:

  • distributed nearly 108.6 tonnes of food to 1,512 participants in food-for-work projects;
  • distributed one-month food rations and essential household items to over 3,670 people displaced by the conflict or natural disaster in nine provinces;
  • constructed poultry shelters and started the installation of hatchery units in 12 communities in the north, which will benefit 220 families, and provided them with incubators, feeding equipment, and eggs for hatching purposes. This project is conducted by women to help them earn a livelihood for their families.
  • trained farmers in livestock management and animal husbandry.

Improving water and sanitation services

ICRC water engineers are working closely with local water boards on urban and rural projects. The organization promotes hygiene awareness in religious schools and detention centres, and with families in their homes.

During March and April, the ICRC:

  • worked on urban projects that will supply water for over 48,000 people in Kabul, Kandahar and Kunduz;
  • worked on rural projects that will provide safe water for over 28,000 people in Kabul, Bamyian, Herat, Baghlan, Kunduz and Kandahar provinces;
  • carried out hygiene-promotion sessions for some 18,760 people in Kabul, Herat, Farah, Laghman, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Balkh (Mazar);
  • continued to improve the water supply and sanitary conditions for nearly 370 detainees in six provincial prisons
  • continued renovation work at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.

Working in partnership with the Afghan Red Crescent Society

The ICRC provides the Afghan Red Crescent Society with technical and financial assistance to help it deliver services to the community and to implement a range of programmes.

During March and April, the ICRC:

  • supported a two-day workshop on volunteer management for 16 heads of Afghan Red Crescent branches;
  • worked closely with Afghan Red Crescent volunteers on the distribution of food and seed (see above).

Afghanistan is the ICRC's biggest operation worldwide. The organization has 136 expatriate and over 1,570 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and nine offices countrywide. In addition, it operates seven physical rehabilitation centres.


For further information, please contact:

Jessica Barry, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 282 719

Abdul Hassib Rahimi, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 276 465 (Dari and Pashto)

Christian Cardon, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02


Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. A doctor examines a baby shortly after birth. 

Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. A doctor examines a baby shortly after birth.
© ICRC / J. Barry / v-p-af-e-01804

Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. A nurse monitors the condition of a baby in an incubator, one of several on the ward. 

Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. A nurse monitors the condition of a baby in an incubator, one of several on the ward.
© ICRC / J. Barry / v-p-af-e-01803

Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. Mirwais treats both war casualties and the chronically ill. 

Mirwais Regional Hospital, Kandahar. Mirwais treats both war casualties and the chronically ill.
© ICRC / J. Barry / v-p-af-e-01802

ICRC rehabilitation centre, Mazar-i-Sharif. Women play wheelchair-basketball. 

ICRC rehabilitation centre, Mazar-i-Sharif. Women play wheelchair-basketball.
© ICRC / P. Hendrickx / v-p-af-e-01791