December 10, 2007

Rep. Waxman Calls for Investigation of U.S. Involvment in Kabul Maternity Hospital

In November, Christine pointed to the work journalist Alison Young of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has been doing to document the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s questionable approach to “aiding” the Rabia Balkhi maternity hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. Please see her post for background, including the serious lack of adequate supplies in the hospital (even basics such as soap and gloves) at the same time that HHS spent $1.3 million to send computerized LeapFrog talking books to the facility in a no-bid contract arrangement.

Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is now calling for an investigation of potential mismanagement of the U.S. medical training program at the facility, which was earlier criticized for possibly pushing an increase in c-sections before the hospital was equipped to handle such deliveries and increasing maternal mortality. In a Dec. 6 letter to current HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, Waxman states:

“…it appears that early claims of progress at the hospital were not based in fact. Furthermore, it appears that HHS missed multiple opportunities to take steps that would have facilitated and expedited the work of these committed professionals. The concerns conveyed by CDC staff and other experts who worked in the hospital appear to have been minimized or dismissed entirely, and HHS touted the hospital’s rebirth as a prime example of the agency’s accomplishments in global health at a time when the picture on the ground was not consistent with these claims.

As part of the investigation, Waxman asks for a number of documents, including communications from former HHS Secretary Thompson, communications with other agencies regarding the hospital, and documents related to contracts and grants to entities involved in the hospital initiative. Although the U.S. project at the hospital, ostensibly to improve maternity care and the infant death rate, began in 2002, a May 2003 email from visitors to the facility noted ongoing horrific conditions:

“Bottom line is that it is still the worst hospital in Kabul, worst conditions, feces all over the halls, blood everywhere, placentas piled in the one working sink, no drugs, no record keeping, no signs of the refurbishment save new paint in a few spots with a memorial in front with a US flag…”

This message followed Thompson’s announcement just a month earlier that “Today is a new day in Afghanistan, where we now have a new hospital for women to receive top-notch health care.” HHS currently has four officials in Kabul assessing the facility; according to communications with Young, they are expected to return on December 14. We will keep you updated as we learn more about this situation.

Some of the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s coverage; additional documentation is linked from some of the stories:


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