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Afghan Minister of Health, Dr. Sayed Fatimie, Visits U.S.

 

At the invitation of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. Sayed Fatimie, Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Health, came to Washington, D.C. during the week of July 21-25, 2008 to meet with U.S. officials, think tanks, and NGOs. During his visit he discussed advances in the country’s healthcare system, identify shortfalls and work with government and non-government partners in outlining areas of future cooperation.

 

While in Washington, Minister Fatimie met with various members of the U.S. government and Congress to discuss the ongoing efforts in rehabilitating and further improving the health sector in Afghanistan. Minister Fatimie discussed key issues related to Afghanistan’s health sector with his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Health Mike Leavitt; USAID Administrator Ms. Henrietta Fore and Deputy Administrator Mr. Jim Kunder; Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Richard Boucher; Undersecretary of State for Global and Democracy Affairs Paul Dobriansky; Undersecretary of Defense James Shinn,; the Afghanistan Directorate at the National Security Council; Director of Bureau of Internationsl Security and Nonproliferation Matthias Mitman; Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.); Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)  and World Bank health specialist Benjamin Loevinsohn. He also spoke to staff members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, and met with a number of NGOs working in Afghanistan.

 

Minister Fatimie shed light on the recent achievements of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), indicating that in recent years its efforts had helped improve health indicators among the Afghan people, especially women and children. In the last five years, access to basic health care has expanded from nine to 85 percent of the population. As a direct result, Afghanistan has seen a 25 percent decrease in the infant mortality rate and a similar decrease in the maternal mortality rate since he took office.

 

Furthermore, Minister Fatimie expressed his gratitude for the continued support of the United States for Afghanistan’s health sector. He focused on the recent agreement signed in Kabul in which USAID certified the ministry to receive assistance directly from the U.S. government. The first direct outlay of $218 million will be used to expand basic health services over five years, increasing the current U.S. contribution to health services by 30 percent to $37 million dollars for 2008.

 

Minister Fatimie stated, "USAID is one of the major donors in the health and nutrition sector in Afghanistan. Around 7.5 million people in 13 provinces of Afghanistan are receiving health services. In addition the USAID and other donors support MoPH at the central and provincial levels. As a result, MoPH has proven its ability to manage donors’ funds efficiently, and we will continue to do so."

 

In addition to highlighting achievements in the health sector, Minister Fatimie also stressed the need for long term U.S. and international commitment to Afghanistan in order for Afghans to achieve their goals and reach a level of self-sufficiency. He outlined a plan under which 90 percent of the Afghan people would have access to primary health care services by 90 percent. Additionally, his plan would see increases in national coverage of various vaccinations for the general populace, reduce the maternal mortality rate by 21 percent, reduce mortality rate among children under the age of 5 by 35 percent and reduce the infant mortality rate by 30 percent.

 

Minister Fatimie also outlined a strategy involving the creation of a medical network across Afghanistan. With the aid of the World Bank and USAID, he intends to create a network of clinics, health centers, regional hospitals, and provincial medical centers that will provide the access to quality healthcare for all Afghans.

 

The minister also attended meetings with officials at the World Bank, the Heritage Foundation, Rotary International, Doctors without Borders and the University of Maryland and conducted interviews with the VOA and as well as local Afghan- and U.S.-based media.

 

Minister Fatimie has had a long career of service to Afghanistan. Starting in 1977 as a general practitioner, Dr. Fatimie went on to found an ICRC training program for refugees in Pakistan and a medical organization that provided aid to mujahideen and Afghan civilians during the Soviet invasion. He then served as Deputy Minister of Public Health, and ultimately the Minister of Public Health in the early nineties. Forced to flee by the Taliban, Dr. Fatimie continued to play an active role in the Afghan relief effort from abroad until the U.S. intervention allowed him to return and take up his old post as Minister of Public Health.

 

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