KABUL, 20 April 2010 – The closure of the only hospital for war victims in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, is harming conflict-affected patients and should be reopened as soon as possible, aid workers say.
The 70-bed hospital, run by the Milan-based NGO Emergency, was closed in Lashkargah city, the provincial capital, after security officials allegedly discovered weapons and ammunition on its premises and detained nine employees.
“Helmand is a conflict-affected province and Emergency’s hospital is highly needed here,” Enyatullah Ghafari, head of the provincial health department, told IRIN.
Calls for reopening the hospital are being made after Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) released the NGO’s three Italian employees, and five of the six Afghan employees, on 18 April.
In a statement the NDS said the NGO’s senior Afghan staff could have been forced to play a role in an alleged plot to kill the governor of Helmand Province, Golab Mangal.
News of the aid workers’ release was not welcomed by Mangal’s office.
Dawood Ahmadi, the governor’s spokesman, said: “We have no reaction to the releases, but it is worth asking security officials, who have been monitoring the activities of these people for a long time, on what evidence they made the arrests?”
Accusations of involvement in “suicide attacks” and the death of Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi in April 2007 have damaged the NGO’s reputation, at least in Helmand Province.
Dozens of local people protested in the streets of Lashkargah on 12 April, chanting anti-Emergency slogans and calling on officials to expel the NGO from the country.
Gino Strada, the founder of Emergency, said: “Someone tried to discredit Emergency and failed.”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which supports a 150-bed hospital in Lashkargah, and the International Committee of the Red Cross provide health services to all battle-affected wounded and sick, including wounded Taliban fighters in Helmand.
“A health facility for the victims of war is definitely needed in Helmand,” said Michiel Hofman, MSF’s country representative.
No one at Emergency’s main office in Milan, Italy, was available on 19 April to comment on the future of its hospital in Lashkargah. The NGO runs two other hospitals in Afghanistan (one in Kabul and another in Panjshir Province) and supports several health posts across the country.
UN agencies and many other international aid organizations do not have a presence in Helmand Province due to insecurity but respond to humanitarian emergencies through local NGOs and government offices.
Landmines, roadside bombs, suicide attacks and sporadic clashes often take a heavy toll on civilians in rural parts of Helmand Province where health services are almost nonexistent.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]