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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2002

Launch Health Programs and Partnerships in Afghanistan

Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary
Kabul, Afghanistan
October 8, 2002

Let me start off by first thanking our wonderful Ambassador Robert Finn for being here, being willing to spend a whole day taking me around and giving me an opportunity to meet with the Minister of Health, a lot of the NGOs, the United Nations, along with President Karzai and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah.

It is a privilege for me as Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson to join all of you and to thank all of you so very much for your courageous leadership as you begin to rebuild this great country. America is proud to be your partner and on behalf of President Bush I am here to reaffirm our commitment to you and to the people of Afghanistan. This support of the United States extends not only to forcing out oppressive regimes but goes far beyond to helping meet the everyday needs of your people. The President would like you to know that just because the Taliban regime is no longer ruling does not mean that the United States will now disappear. We are mindful that the destruction of tyranny is not sufficient in and of itself to build the kind of responsible representative democracy that the Afghan people need and want. As United States Secretary of Health, I have come to your country because I am personally concerned about the health of the Afghan people, especially the women and children. It is impossible to nurture and grow a strong democratic society if 16% of the children die in infancy and a total of 25% die before the age of five due to malnutrition and other preventable illnesses.

Furthermore, these children will never have a chance if their mothers die while bringing new life into the world. 55% of maternal deaths are due to complications during childbirth. In some places such as Badkhshan, the percentage is 66%, two of every three women. No nation can have a strong future if its women and children are at such a profound risk. I am here to tell you that the United States is joining with you to reverse these heartbreaking statistics and help restore health to the women and children of your country. They are not problems that the United States can fix for you but working with you we can offer counsel and expertise about how to prevent them. The first step, of course, is the survival of those in danger of losing their lives due to poor medical care. The statistics I’ve just mentioned need to be turned around and well will help Afghanistan to do so. Your people have survived terrible oppression and have fought bravely for freedom but your victory will have been incomplete if future generations remain burdened by serious and preventable health problems. Any nation’s strength lies with its people. Given its resilient and courageous people, Afghanistan has the ability to become a strong and vibrant nation. I have had the privilege of meeting many of your people, in the United States we have large communities of Afghan immigrants, many of them physicians and nurses. They have told me that they want to come back to help their country become strong once again so we are helping them do that through my department.

Here in Kabul today are three doctors traveling with me. Dr. Mujadidi, Dr. Behsudi and Dr. Siddiqi – these are three dedicated Afghan physicians who came to my department with a plan for rebuilding Afghanistan’s health system so we have brought them here to turn that plan to action. Working with President Karzai, Minister of Public Health Siddiqi, we hope to establish a maternal health clinic in Kabul but this clinic will be much more than an urgent care facility. It is going to serve as a training center for the many other Afghan health care professionals in the United States as well as in Afghanistan.

These are very able people trained in medicine, trained in Kabul and they have expressed to me that they would like to use their skills once again to help Afghanistan in the health care your people so desperately need. We’re going to bring them back here, back to their homeland, enable Afghans to help heal Afghans. They will come to the clinic where they will both work and receive training and then we will send them out to train others. And then in cooperation with the Karzai government, we intend to set up women’s centers in 31 provinces in Afghanistan and these centers will serve as hubs for education and skill building for training in maternal health. To help with both of these efforts, I have asked Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to assemble a technical team to come to Afghanistan to come work with the Ministry of Health, President Karzai, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to assess how we can best assist you in rebuilding your health care system.

As children are brought into this world successfully, we need to keep them healthy and working with WHO and UNICEF, my department expects to eradicate polio from the nation of Afghanistan in the next twelve months. In the meantime, we have immunized over eight million children for measles while also administering Vitamin A.

I want to be clear that these measures are only the first steps. I understand that when a country has been forced to function under such inadequate conditions for so long, the devastation is so great that it is hard to even know where to start the reconstruction. But in the area of health, the starting point is very clear. When Afghanistan begins to get a handle on maternal health issues, we will also be prepared to help you deal with many other health challenges. For example, we are already working in the areas of sanitizing water, mental health, nutrition and injury surveillance. I’ve come to let you know that America is going to continue to stand by your side. And earlier this year, with President Karzai at his side, President Bush said, "the United States is committed to building a lasting partnership with Afghanistan, will help the new Afghan government provide the security that is the foundation for peace."

I am here today as Secretary of Health to reaffirm that abiding commitment. All Americans are proud to be your partners in the hard work of building your country. And we are calling on the international community as well to join in our efforts financially with other resources to help rebuild Afghanistan so that Afghanistan can go ahead in the future in peace and prosperity.

For related information please see Department of  Health and Human Services October 8th press releases

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