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Mirwais hospital: ICRC staff manage to work in dire circumstances

18-08-2009 Feature

Journalist Nima Elbagir and cameraman Jake Simkin visited the ICRC-supported Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Here, they share their impressions of the humanitarian situation and of the ICRC and its work in the hospital.

I don’t know how the ICRC staff at Mirwais do it.

Over the dinners they were kind enough to share with us, we learnt they had all worked in some pretty tough places, places that prepare you for the worst.

But even having worked in the places I’ve worked in – Somalia, DRC, Darfur.... Mirwais was hard.

Perhaps it’s the isolation.

The ICRC is the only international aid organisation with foreign staff permanently based in Kandahar.

An incredible but I imagine also very lonely position to be in.

So coming from Kabul, believing that you know a little of the situation on the ground, that you’ve heard the stories elsewhere.

Even then, you are still unprepared.

It’s not so much those injured as a direct consequence of the conflict - the relentless drip, drip of the war wounded.

The victims of air strikes and cross fire, the people living too near Coalition bases or caught walking down roads the Taliban don't want built.

Those punished daily for trying to go on with life in the middle of a war.

To a certain degree if you do your homework before you come down here, that sadly is horrifying but not shocking.

What’s unexpected is the children, the dozens and dozens of children, who come in every day.

The statistics on civilian casualties conspire to obscure a heavier death toll – those that die around the conflict, because of it, but not directly by it.

Unicef rates Afghanistan as having the second highest infant mortality rate in the world and every day at Mirwais staff and parents told us the choice is simple – wait, praying for a window of calm or risk travelling to the hospital through the violence.

Wait and risk your child’s life or go and risk everything.

Often the doctors told us the parents wait too long so by the time they arrive at the hospital the risk they take is a hollow one.

Of those “hopeless cases” most we were told die within 24 hours of reaching Mirwais.

On one of our last days at Mirwais we were sitting at what had became our regular spot, by the entrance to the Emergency ward.

Waiting with our cameras switched on to film arrivals. It had been really quiet but then two men on a motor bike drove right up the doors.

One jumped off the back of the bike before it had even stopped, carrying a child in his arms – we were later told he was the father.

He ran passed us into the ward, concentrating too hard on getting there to even shout for the doctors.

They came almost on instinct, arriving as the baby was laid on the bed.

But it was too late.

He’d waited too long

Of all the scenes we saw at Mirwais it was the condition of the children that was the most difficult and the most unexpected.

But I’m still incredibly grateful to the staff at the hospital for helping us see a little of what people in the cross fire in Afghanistan’s south live with on a daily basis.

And the choices they are forced to make.


Photo: Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan 

Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. ICRC paediatrician examines a baby with pneumonia.
© ICRC / J. Powell / af-e-01562

Photo: young patient was injured in a bomb explosion. 

This young patient was injured in a bomb explosion.
© ICRC / J. Powell / af-e-01559

Photo: Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. ICRC medical staff. 

Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. ICRC medical staff work closely with local doctors and nurses
© ICRC / J. Powell / af-e-01560

Photo: operating theatre in Mirwais hospital, Kandahar. 

The operating theatre in Mirwais hospital, Kandahar.
© ICRC / J. Powell / af-e-01561