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Hospital Strengthens Infrastructure Through Interaction, Teaching

By Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2004 – The Forward Operating Base Salerno Field Hospital provides medical services to both coalition members and Afghans throughout Regional Command East. By focusing on the other needs the local community has in terms of medical infrastructure, the hospital is helping in countless ways.

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Afghan Dr. Ahmadzai Bashir and U.S. Army Dr. (Maj.) Peter Ray cut a cast off a patient at a clinic outside Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

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What began as an effort to help keep beds free in his clinic has now evolved into re-establishing local doctors and clinics as the first tier of medical treatment in the community for Maj. Peter Ray, Salerno Field Hospital director.

"Our hospital has a very high surgical capability, but a very low ward capability," said Ray. "My challenge is to always keep beds free in case of a (mass casualty situation)."

For about six months, Ray has been working with local doctors to establish their clinics as the first place Afghans go to receive treatment. At the clinics, the local doctors assess whether they can treat a patient on site or if the patient must be evacuated to the field hospital. In emergency situations, patients can go directly to the field hospital at Salerno.

Ray said the system being employed in Salerno is a lot like medical care in the United States. "The (local doctors) function a lot like a family practice doctor," said Ray. "They handle a lot of the problems like colds and rashes."

Strengthening the local clinics will serve to set the community up for success in the future. "The largest problem with coalition doctors providing aid is that it doesn't support the local medical community, pharmacies or medical supply chain," he said. "We don't want to create a vacuum when we leave."

One local doctor who works with Ray at the Salerno Field Hospital is Dr. Ahmadzai Bashir. He runs a clinic in the Yaqubi district, just a few kilometers from Salerno. The Afghan doctor's clinic has benefited greatly because of the coalition's presence. Not only has the coalition assisted in better equipping and supplying his clinic, but he has also received assistance with training.

This training comes when Bashir assists the Salerno staff at the clinic they run every Monday and Tuesday. This is a win-win arrangement. While Bashir gets to observe modern medical procedures used by the military medical staff, he is on hand to give background to the staff for the patients he referred.

"I have learned a lot from the doctors here and use a lot of my knowledge at my clinic," said Bashir.

He also said there has been a tremendous increase in the number of people he sees each day. That is due in large part to the confidence the people have in his clinic and the support the coalition provides.

The military staff at the clinic has also grown from the interaction with local doctors. "We benefit greatly from working with the local doctors," said Navy Capt. John Raff, a surgeon at the Salerno Field Hospital. "They have taught us about local bacterial infections and rashes that the (soldiers) are coming down with."

With a blossoming relationship focused on developing the Afghan medical infrastructure, everybody wins, said Ray. "We are prepared for any military medical emergencies," he said, "and the local community is getting the best medical care we can provide."

(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Dr. (Capt.) John Raff examines a patient with his Afghan counterpart, Dr. Ahmadzai Bashir, at a clinic just outside Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo   
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