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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Afghanistan: Aid is a Reflection of Need

This week a HOPE International Development Agency shipment of medical supplies arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after clearing the typical bureaucratic gauntlet. The reception of these supplies is always an extremely happy event. As one might expect in a country where deprivation is felt to achieve a unique standard in dreadfulness, to say that Afghani hospitals and clinics are under-supplied is a great understatement.

Because HOPE works in over twenty countries on three different continents, we encounter many different ‘versions’ of poverty, different gradations of lack or constraint or threat or oppression. The medical supplies programme is only one of the many anti-poverty strategies at HOPE’s disposal, but in its administration we learn about the head-spinning varieties of poverty playing out in villages and cities across an unequal planet. To put it another way, the kind of medicine we supply to any given community is a litmus of the kind of suffering you are going to encounter there.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, demand for medicine to treat diabetes is very high. Now, anybody who has managed to experience the Dominican Republic outside the tourist’s enclave knows that life, especially in the countryside, is a struggle. The high incidence of diabetes probably reflects the fact that the diet of poor Dominicans tends to be comprised of the kind of cheap, starchy food that cause sudden spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.

However, in Afghanistan, the demand isn’t for insulin, it’s for oral rehydration packets. Afghani doctors and nurses aren’t treating diseases that result from poor diet, they’re helping people to cope with the effects of having no food at all. The #1 health problem for Afghanis is malnutrition. Only Angola has worse child and mother mortality rates than Afghanistan. We see from the kind of support our Afghani health workers request that the level of poverty they are contending with is among the worst in the world.

So while it is a pleasure to see a medical donation arrive safely in any of the places where HOPE is at work, it is especially heartening in this place. Knowing the way Afghanis struggle, it is little successes like a well-stocked clinic that encourage our staff to work through any number of administrative or logistical challenges.

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