In this era of globalization, it isn't just the State Department that thinks beyond U.S. borders. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson says he has secured $5 million in the upcoming federal budget for health care in Afghanistan.
The money, if approved by Congress, would rebuild a large women's hospital in Kabul and four satellite clinics across the war-torn country, according to information released by Thompson's office yesterday.
In recent days, HHS has trumpeted new prevention grants and childhood vaccination programs that are to be included in the fiscal 2004 budget, which will be finalized in a week.
As with other federal agencies, HHS has not indicated what programs may be trimmed next year, whether states and cities will receive the bioterrorism assistance they are seeking or how much money will be spent on more controversial efforts, such as its abstinence-until-marriage program.
Thompson has taken a personal interest in the Afghan health system since visiting the country last fall. A news release issued by his office said that after he "saw firsthand the dire need to immediately rebuild the nation's public health infrastructure," he recruited Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to help.
"We are keeping President Bush's commitment to the people of Afghanistan to make their country stronger, healthier and more free," Thompson said. "These teaching clinics will prepare a new generation of doctors, nurses and midwives."
About 40 percent of deaths among women in Afghanistan occur during childbirth, and one in four children dies before age 5, according to HHS.
The money would be used to buy equipment, upgrade laboratories and train Afghan doctors and nurses at the Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital. After their education in Kabul, the health care workers would train additional nurses and midwives in the rural clinics.
"We are planting the seeds of independence and self-sufficiency for the people of Afghanistan," Thompson said. He plans to return to Afghanistan in the spring.