KABUL, Afghanistan U.S.-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 armys top medical officer from his post as part of an investigation into alleged corruption.
Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press that Surgeon General Ahmad Zia Yaftali was being removed from his post as part of the inquiry. Three officials from the countrys top medical facility, Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, have been fired, he said.
Its unclear just how much has gone missing of the $42 million worth of medical goods the U.S. has donated this year, and whether any Afghan soldiers have died as a result. U.S. 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 U.S. is focused on training Afghans so they can take over authority for securing the country in 2014.
A U.S. 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, dont 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 authorized 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 hasnt 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.
Shortages of medicine are not only a problem in this clinic, but throughout the entire army, he said. In other parts of the country, commanders say soldiers often buy medicine in the local market.
Rahimi showed off an X-ray machine that cannot be used because its battery is broken and a lab full of modern equipment where his staff cannot do blood tests because of missing chemicals.
If a patient comes here with a high fever we just guess what medicine we should give him, he said.
American provisions of medicines for the Afghan army have kept pace with the growth from 70,000 soldiers in 2008 to 147,000 today, said Col. Schuyler Geller, commander of a U.S. medical training advisory group for Afghan forces. But, he said, poor tracking once the supplies are given to the Afghan army makes it hard to know where it has all gone.
Geller said it is very likely that the drugs are being sold on the side.
The U.S. donated $42 million worth of medicines and pharmaceutical supplies in 2010, according to Maj. Richard Zavadil, who oversees medical contracting logistics for U.S. forces training the Afghan army. The medicines are accounted for up to the point they are turned over to Afghan regional supply depots, he said. Zavadil and Geller would not comment on the investigations into Yaftali, the top medical officer in the Afghan military.