US medicines for Afghan soldiers disappear

US officials do not account for supplies after delivering them to Afghans.

Updated: Dec 23, 2010, 09:57 AM IST

Kabul: US-donated medicines and pharmaceutical supplies meant to keep the new Afghan Army and police healthy have been disappearing before reaching Afghan military hospitals and clinics, and the government said it is removing the Army`s top medical officer from his post as part of an investigation into alleged corruption.

Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak said that Surgeon General Ahmad Zia Yaftali was being removed from his post as part of the inquiry. Three officials from the country`s top medical facility, Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, have been fired, he said.

It`s unclear just how much has gone missing of the USD 42 million worth of medical goods the US has donated this year, and whether any Afghan soldiers have died as a result. US officials say they do not account for the supplies after delivering them to the Afghans.

The Americans have repeatedly urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to root out government corruption to show that his administration can be a true partner in re-establishing control over the country. However, many anti-corruption campaigns have stalled. And last summer, Karzai blocked an investigation into high-level aides supposedly accepting bribes.

Embezzlement of Army funds, if proven, would be particularly worrying because the rapidly expanding military is seen as key to the NATO exit strategy. The US is focused on training Afghans so they can take over authority for securing the country in 2014.

A US military official said that American-supplied medicines, along with additional donated funds, should have been enough for the entire Afghan Army. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he said any announcement should come from the Afghan government.

However, Afghan Army units around the country complain of shortages of medicines, including morphine and antibiotics. Officials say patients at Dawood Hospital often go without adequate medicine, don`t get their dressings changed and are left unattended by doctors who skip rounds to work at private clinics.

Expensive equipment also has disappeared, an Afghan Army official familiar with the investigation said. In at least one case, diagnostic machines meant for the Army have ended up in private clinics in Kabul, said the official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.

Nasar Ahmad Rahimi, the director of an Army clinic in Kabul, said the Afghan Army health department delivers far fewer types of medicine and in far smaller quantities than he requests for his clinic, which sees some 200 patients a day.

"We request about 120 different kinds of medicines, but at the end we get something like 30," he said. His clinic hasn`t had metronidazole — a key antibiotic for treating gastrointestinal infections — for two months despite repeated requests.

So he rations. A patient who normally should get a course of four drugs gets three instead, or the period of treatment is shortened, Rahimi said. He has set aside a stock of lifesaving drugs for emergencies that he said he sometimes replenishes out of his own pocket.

Bureau Report