Medical Aid Workers Attacked and Killed in Afghanistan
Afghanistan officials have announced that a group of 10 American and European medical aid workers were attacked and killed in a remote area of northern Afghanistan while providing eye care in the “relatively peaceful mountain province” of Badakhshan. The group was working with the International Assistance Mission (IAM), an organization that has operated in Afghanistan since 1966.
According to the Washington Post, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings because they were “teaching Christianity to Afghans.”
Director of the IAM, Dirk Frans, told the Associated Press that six Americans, one German, one Briton, and two Afghans were part of the team. Although they are registered as a nonprofit Christian Organization, Frans said, the group does not proselytize.
Team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from New York, and Karen Woo, a British surgeon, are among those confirmed dead. The doctors had finished their work and were returning to Kabul at the time of the attack.
The group was part of the NOOR Provincial Ophthalmic Care (POC) project which provides primary eye care to areas that do not have access to eye care facilities. The “eye camps” are non-surgical outpatient clinics that are run on a weekly basis in three Afghan provinces. The team served a total of 75,462 people in 2008, including 34,249 school children who were screened for eye problems.
The International Assistance Mission is an international charitable organization serving the people of Afghanistan through Health Care and Economic Development. The group operates two eye care hospitals throughout the country in addition to the eye camp team.
The Mazar Ophthalmic Center is a 40 bed eye hospital located in Mazar-i-Sharif in the Balkh province. In 2008, the MOC served over 31,000 patients and performed 3201 surgeries. Over 3,000 pairs of eyeglasses were distributed.
The Kandahar Noor Eye Hospital (KNEH) is a ten-bed hospital that opened in the southern region of Afghanistan in 2007. Local donations have provided funding for free care for patients who cannot pay for surgery, glasses or medicine. The KNEH has one eye doctor, who is assisted by two nurses and three opticians. In 2008, the KNEH served almost 8000 patients and performed 654 surgeries.
The group has also established the Hazarajat Community Health Project, which is the nearest healthcare facility for most people in the Lal-wa-Sarjangal district. The project initially began in 1999 as a small Mother and Child Health Clinic, but has now expanded to 157 Health Posts, 5 Basic Health Centers, and a Comprehensive Health Center. The Wakhan Community Health and Development Program has a mission to reduce the under-5 mortality rate and the maternal mortality rate in the far North East of Afghanistan.
The IAM also runs a Community Development Project to facilitate development in Afghan communities. In addition, the Adult Learning and Education Facilitation project, first established in 2007, aims to help the people of Kandahar with learning needs, including English as a second language. More than 90% of the learners used their skills to obtain jobs and earn a living.
A statement by the IAM reads, “This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966. We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year.”
Dr. Woo had written before her death that while she realized the expedition would “require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk…the effort is worth it in order to assist those who need it most.”
Here at eMaxhealth, our prayers go out to the families of the International Assistance Mission eye camp team and we thank the IAM volunteers for all of the work they do to provide care for those in need.