There are few things more important to the well-being of the nation than the health of its people. The basic health care challenges facing Afghan families are serious and sometimes devastating. Even if equitable and reliable access to health care is rarely front page news in Afghanistan, it is an issue I focus on with teams of experts at the U.S. Embassy each and every day. And that is because thriving, healthy Afghans is a core issue at the heart of achieving social justice in this country, and is an indispensable element to advancing Afghanistan’s future.
In 2002, for all practical purposes Afghanistan did not have a functioning health care system. During the Taliban era this was reflected in the worst health care conditions of any nation on earth. Each year during that period, thousands of Afghans needlessly suffered, and many died, as a consequence of the lack of even the most basic medical care. Despite the critics who have ceaselessly focused on the collective challenges faced by a country that had virtually no healthcare infrastructure, tremendous advances have been made. Indeed, in the past 15 years, Afghanistan has made huge strides in providing basic health care services to the people. For example, from the complete absence of medical care in the Taliban era, today 60 percent of Afghans are within a 45 minute walk to a health care clinic. These impressive gains are reflected in the significant decline during the last 15 years in maternal and infant mortality rates. The reality is that today with help of the United States and the international community, Afghanistan has built a public health care system that provides a foundation for continuing to improve the health and well-being of Afghanistan’s people, this is particularly the case with regards to women and children. Each and every day, through multiple USAID programs, we are training Afghan physicians, nurses, and midwives – giving them the expertise to provide care for years to come. Afghanistan now has more than 20,000 community health workers, including in the most remote parts of the country, and USAID has trained nearly half of them.
As I said, we are working particularly hard with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health to ensure maternal and child survival. Tragically, in Afghanistan the reality is that too many women die during childbirth and far too few children live to see their fifth birthday. This reality makes us ever more committed to do more. So, from providing everything from pre-natal care to regular childhood immunizations, USAID’s investments will help women and their families get the high quality health care they have the right to receive.
I know much, much work remains to be done, and you have my word that the United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghanistan in its quest to ensure its people are healthy. The United States and those nations who are blessed with the means to help must stay on course to help our fellow citizens of the world, including the brave and noble people of Afghanistan be able to live the healthy lives they deserve.