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U.S. Military Surgeons Saving Children's Lives in Afghanistan
Date:8/5/2010

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug.5 (HealthDay News) -- During an attack on an Afghanistan village, shrapnel sliced into a 5-year-old girl's skull, almost killing her. U.S. military helicopter pilots flew her to a hospital at Bagram Airfield, where a U.S. neurosurgeon operated, saving her life.

In Afghanistan, the priority of military surgeons is treating injured U.S. servicemen and women. But when they have beds and personnel available, U.S. doctors will also treat Afghan nationals.

The most satisfying cases, doctors say, are the kids who would otherwise not get the care they need.

"Almost every case I did out there, in particular the kids, has stuck with me," said Dr. Paul Klimo Jr., a former U.S. Air Force neurosurgeon who recently left the military and is now a pediatric neurosurgeon at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. "That 5-year-old girl was quite sick for awhile, but the last update I got on her, she was doing great."

In 2009, more than 1,000 children were killed in conflict-related incidents in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan Rights Monitor, a Kabul-based human rights organization. And war can take a harsh toll on children in other ways, says Afghan Rights Monitor director Ajmal Samadi.

"War kills their parents, family and friends. It deprives children of education, health and other essential services. It displaces children," Samadi said. "It affects their food security condition. It exposes them to exploitation and abuse by warring and criminal groups. It damages their mental health and leaves them with long-term emotional and psychological scars."

Access to medical care is very limited, Samadi said, with few pediatricians in a country in which about half of the estimated population of 28 million is younger than 15.

"This problem is very serious in rural and particularly in conflict-affected areas where doctors do not work due t
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