RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In Afghanistan, the Afghan military and police have suffered record numbers of casualties this year now that the Afghan army has taken over combat operations from the U.S. and NATO forces, which means they're scrambling to train the Afghans, not just to fight the Taliban but also to treat their wounded. NPR's Sean Carberry has this report from a base in southern Helmand Province.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Helmand's Sangin district is still one of the most violent place in the country. Afghan forces clash with the Taliban and other militants on a daily basis.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
CARBERRY: On one afternoon, an Afghan police convoy came under fire as it passed Forward Operating Base Nolay, a joint U.S. and Afghan base. Two Afghan officers were wounded.
They were brought to the new medical clinic at Nolay run by the Afghan army. It's little more than a prefabricated barn. There are several triage beds made out of two-by-fours and blue bed sheets with patterns of frolicking dolphins lining the plywood walls. But it's a big improvement from the old clinic on the base.
Afghan medical staff treated the police officers under the supervision of U.S. medics led by Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class Frederico Sanchez.
CORPSMAN FIRST CLASS FREDERICO SANCHEZ: Does your chest till hurt?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
SANCHEZ: Is it better?
CARBERRY: So the one guy, he was basically grazed in the back with a bullet.
SANCHEZ: Ah, yeah, it's a little bit deeper graze. So they just stitched it up, gave him antibiotics. The other guy got shot in the left shoulder. Might have jarred his clavicle. I think it's broken. They're not urgent, very treated correctly.
CARBERRY: Abdul Haq Ghanizada is the Afghan physician assistant in charge of the clinic. He had six years of experience prior to joining the army a few months ago.
ABDUL HAQ GHANIZADA: We give him some analgesic and some antibiotic and we put some bandage to provide from active blooding.
CARBERRY: In other words, the basics of field triage: Stop the bleeding, provide pain relief and prevent infection.
GHANIZADA: We want to transfer the patient to the big hospital because here we don't have X-ray.
CARBERRY: The Afghan army has four regional hospitals and two more under construction, with modern equipment provided by NATO. But transporting causalities to these facilities is one of the challenges for Afghan forces.
SANCHEZ: They're trying to get me to medevac them.
CARBERRY: But Sanchez says the wounded policemen don't need urgent care. Sanchez says this is all part of the process of making the Afghans self-sufficient. He says this clinic is making progress in that regard.
SANCHEZ: They called us after they treated him. They had a question so we just came down. So it was more for reassurance. And they'll do that every now and then, which is fine for me.
CARBERRY: Sanchez says that when he arrived eight months ago, the Afghan medical staff called him for help constantly, even for things like sprained ankles. Now they only call him for advice on complicated cases.
NORULLAH: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: One patient recuperating in a small ward is 19-year-old Norullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name. His army patrol was attacked a few days earlier and he was shot in the hand.
NORULLAH: (Through Translator) They have good medicine and they gave me good treatment.
CARBERRY: Ghanizada, the Afghan medic, points out that Norullah's care started before he got to the clinic.
GHANIZADA: When we received this patient, there was a tourniquet so we treat him and we remove the tourniquet.
CARBERRY: Afghan combat medics are now receiving training in things like applying tourniquets, which often make the difference between life and death for a wounded soldier. Corpsman Sanchez...
SANCHEZ: Are close to reaching where they need to be at, working within their means and capabilities. Now, if we talk about comparing it to Western-style of medicine, it's still a long road to go.
CARBERRY: And as NATO troops continue to draw down, it's a road the Afghans will be traveling more and more on their own. Sean Carberry, NPR News.
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