Finding an appropriate way to introduce the upcoming blogs on Afghanistan proves difficult. There are different ideas, different thing to say, different point of view... and also because it is very hard to make generalized statements on Afghanistan. While it is still freezing at night in Kabul, during the day it’s already 20 degrees in Helmand in the south and in both Kunduz and Khost the day temperature reaches 15 degrees. Each and every aspect of life depends on the area, the context, the season, the personal relationships.
After a retreat from the country in 2005, following the assassination of five of our staff in Bagdhis Province, MSF only returned in 2009. For the last four years MSF has been trying to understand the context, learning again how to work in Afghanistan and restarting medical activities. Most of our energy has been put into opening the four hospitals MSF now has in the country.
During this work, we realized that our colleagues have stories to tell. Stories about day to day encounters with patients and their caregivers, about their feelings and impressions, about the fact that the snow is nearly gone, about the fact that we eat chickpeas every day, about the families we miss, about the environment we work and live in.
Likewise, MSF receives many questions about working in Afghanistan, questions which often emerge from a very unilateral view on Afghanistan, the country where the “war on terror” took off. In sharing our stories, if anything, these blogs could serve to challenge the persisting imagine in the media on Afghanistan. Underneath the propaganda lives a population, a population who is the real victim of the war.
As the war rages on, babies need vaccinations, children fall from roofs, mothers are in need of C-sections, boys crash their motor cycles, men step on landmines and grandparents are getting diagnosed with diabetes. While the war is going on, the healthcare system is struggling to respond to those needs, leaving the population vulnerable. MSF in Afghanistan is trying to address those direct and indirect medical needs which are related to the conflict.
Since April 2012, I’ve been heading the Afghanistan mission for Doctors Without Borders, trying to shape and steer the organization in this fascinating and challenging country. As the war enters its twelfth year, it’s our job to address the changes in the context, to anticipate the different scenarios and to keep improving the quality of our work. I do hope these blogs will offer a glimpse of the never ending work in progress.