Pleasanton Weekly

News - April 1, 2011

Medical help for Afghanistan

North Rotary takes on project to update hospital

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Imagine a hospital with no equipment to monitor patients. This was the case at the Public Hospital of Jalalabad in Afghanistan, which prompted Pleasanton North Rotary to launch its project to purchase and install cardiac monitors, neonatal incubators and other equipment.

The 500-bed Public Hospital of Jalalabad treats 45,000 outpatients and 4,200 inpatient cases monthly, but it lacked even rudimentary diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, said Susan DuPree, a clinical psychologist in Pleasanton who headed the project. She noted that hospitals in war zones have different plans of action because established infrastructures are impacted.

"The Ministry of Health is working more on emergency and survival status," DuPree said, adding, "The American military also has hospitals where Afghans are treated."

DuPree lived in Afghanistan in 1969-70, working with USAID to teach English to engineering students with fellowships to study in the United States.

"I was looking for a project there because I have strong feelings for the country and the countrymen," she recalled.

First the club had to determine that a need existed and that the hospital's infrastructure could support new equipment, explained DuPree.

"They were absent of anything -- doctors had a stethoscope and a pressure cuff," DuPree said. "The recommendations for the equipment came from the doctors in Jalalabad."

Once North Rotary determined that the project was feasible, its members raised $32,500, which was matched by the Rotary International Foundation. This gained the backing of Assist International, a nonprofit group in Scott's Valley that specializes in placing medical equipment in developing countries.

Assist contributed financially plus was able to negotiate discounts from Philips Medical Systems and GE Healthcare for new equipment worth $300,000. Assist also guaranteed the equipment for five years and has physicians available to help the medical staff, Dupree said.

The U.S. Air Force flew the equipment to Jalalabad in October:

* 10 cardiac care intensive care unit monitoring systems

* Two neonatal monitors

* Two surgical suite monitors

* An electrocardiogram system

* Defibrillators

* Neonatal incubator

* Infant warmer

* Diagnostic ultrasound scanner

* Bassinets

* Phototherapy light

Five project representatives flew to Afghanistan for 10 days in December to visit see the newly installed equipment, including DuPree. At the airport in Kabul she was surprised not to see taxis jockeying for their business, which she recalled from 40 years ago.

"The quiet was dispiriting," she said. "Kabul to me had gone backwards. I was amazed by the lack of care, just looking at the buildings and the homes. I could absolutely tell they'd been in the war."

Her group flew to Jalalabad, courtesy of USAID, rather than ride several hours south on the Khyber Pass Road.

"Jalalabad was more vibrant," DuPree said. "There were more children and women out and more a sense of commerce."

American soldiers were also a presence, she said.

"People were very attuned to what's going on there," she said. "It's not a Taliban region but it is a terrorist area."

The Jalalabad Rotary Club was the corresponding club for Pleasanton North Rotary to help with the project. They and the medical staff were pleased to see the new contributions to the hospital.

"They are educated primarily in Pakistan, Japan and the United States, and some in India, and are used to using fairly upgraded equipment," DuPree said.

The installation of the medical care equipment was completed in December, and a woman from the Ministry of Health made an inspection.

"She was hands-on to find out what is this, is it working, is there accountability," DuPree said.

North Rotary celebrated the accomplishment at a reception Monday at Washington Hospital in Fremont, whose medical staff along with the Afghan communities of Fremont and Hayward spearheaded additional fundraising efforts.

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