With his long black hair flowing under a traditional cap and over his masked face, a Taliban guard, machine gun in hand, told me to follow the doctor.

I realized then that we had to have his company for the duration of our stay.

A particular evolution and an unusual experience, but one that was to be eclipsed by what we were about to see at the heart of Afghanistanthe largest and best children’s hospital in Kabul, in the center of the capital Kabul.

“We have many departments that I need to show you,” said Muhammad Iqbal, the chief physician at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, as he ushered me up a set of stairs.

“The first services are intensive care and intensive care, follow me.”

“We have many neighborhoods that I need to show you,” Muhammad Iqbal told Sky News

We entered the corridors leading to the wards, groups of women – mothers – immediately covered their faces, stepping aside or looking for a place to stand apart.

I could hear the crying of the children from the hallway and as I looked out the windows of the wards I was surprised at the sheer number of people being treated.

The service was not only full, it was packed. Cribs designed for one child had two or three squeezed together.

Doctors and nurses buzzed around the room, checking vital signs and trying to soothe crying babies.

Babies in a Kabul hospital

I’ve seen such poor medical facilities in 20 years of reporting in Afghanistan, I figured I couldn’t be shocked. In the provinces of the country, basic medical care has been the norm for decades.

It wasn’t the state the children were kept in, it wasn’t really the number of children – many of them desperately ill – it was the fact that it was happening in the best public hospital in the whole world. country.

Worse still, testimonials from doctor after doctor said they couldn’t keep children with treatable illnesses alive because even here they didn’t have enough medicine, supplies or equipment to properly care for their children. patients.

Afghanistan is in the midst of a worsening medical crisis, exacerbated by a plummeting economy, the freezing of the country’s assets and the drying up of the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that have flowed here. for two decades, because the taliban took control.

The Indira Gandhi Hospital is proof of that.

There are over 500 patients being treated at this hospital – they have room for 300.

The hospital nearly closed last winter, but an injection of aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross provided immediate relief and much-needed resources, but it’s not enough.

Room after room is the same, crammed with really sick infants and children.

“Eighty percent of middle-class families used to go to private hospitals for treatment, now they’ve come here, they can’t afford to go anywhere else,” I was told. says Dr. Muhammad Iqbal.

“There is a need for good medicine that you don’t buy outside of a hospital, that’s the problem, our people are very poor.

“There is a need for ventilators, we don’t have ventilators, CPAP machines, and it’s very [big] need an intensive care unit.”

Dr. Salahuddin with the three CP children
Dr. Salahuddin with the three children, Baheer, Mehrama and Sahar

In a cradle, three children, Baheer, Mehrama and Sahar. All suffer from cerebral palsy, as well as other medical complications.

“This one is CP, this one is CP, this one is CP… three of them CP, cerebral palsy,” their doctor explained, pointing to each of their nearly lifeless bodies.

“It’s serious,” adds Dr. Salahuddin.

Their chances of survival are low, there is no treatment for cerebral palsy available in Afghanistan.

Muslimah, 16, and her brother Mansoor Ahmad

Aziz Ullah struggles to get his 16-year-old daughter, Muslimah, out of her wheelchair and place her next to her brother, who is just one year old.

They sought help and medical care in two other provinces, Zabul and Kandahar, before coming here.

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Both children have genetic kidney disease.

“I’m worried about her,” Aziz told me in a soft voice.

“The doctors told me that the disease had recently developed in her, this is my fourth child with this disease.”

Like two of her children who have already passed away, the chances of survival for Muslimah and her brother Mansoor Ahmad are already slim.

“The possibility of [survival] is too low, I mean 80% chance of dying,” explained Dr. Sharif Ahmed Azizi.

“We can’t do anything, no, because we don’t have facilities for these patients.

“For poor patients, we don’t have good patient resources, because on one side we have more patients. I mean the patient load is too high, from all sides of Afghanistan come the patients here, and the facilities too low.”

I asked him what it was like to come to work every day knowing there was not much they could do for children like Muslimah.

“Unfortunately there is nothing we can do for these patients, for these kind of patients… there is no other way.”

Many children in care have serious illnesses that could be successfully treated.

Looking away from her hospital bed, with her mother sitting next to her, 12-year-old Amina has cerebral meningitis.

They struggle to keep her alive. It’s not a lack of skills here, it’s a lack of resources.

The hospital was immaculate – and everywhere we looked it was clear that the doctors, nurses and hospital staff were very dedicated.

But without the basic resources he needs, he is on his knees.

Amina, 12, meningitis

At one point we were separated from Dr Iqbal, I went to see if he had been summoned to his office. I asked one of the staff if the head doctor was there. After a few moments, he gestured for me to follow him into another office.

Inside were two men with black turbans and long beards, clearly diehard Taliban, sitting and talking.

I apologized for the intrusion and said I was looking for the head doctor and getting ready to go out.

“I’m a doctor, actually I’m a specialist surgeon, and I’m in charge here,” one of the men said in perfect English.

“You are welcome.”

Never make assumptions in Afghanistan, I reminded myself.

Dr. Muhammad Haseeb Wardak is the president of the hospital

Dr. Muhammad Haseeb Wardak is the president of the hospital.

He agreed to a quick interview and I asked him if they needed international money to help with the hospital’s problems.

“We call on the international community to increase its support and to continue this support,” he told me.

“They (the United States) should release our money, that’s our hope, our request.”

“This hospital has been here for 50 years, and we want more facilities in the hospital, and we need more staff and equipment, so that we can treat patients who come here from all over Afghanistan.” , he added.

The standoff between the Taliban and the international community over human rights, particularly women’s rights, continues to be a major sticking point. And that is the root of most of the country’s problems.

As we were walking through the halls of the hospital, a woman grabbed us. She wanted help buying formula for her seven-month-old daughter, Fatima.

Dressed in the traditional blue Afghani burqa, she looked me straight in the eye and asked for help.

Babies in a Kabul hospital

It’s unusual in today’s Afghanistan – for a woman to engage so directly with a man, especially when accompanied by an armed Taliban guard, in a public place.

This indicates how desperate she is.

Malnutrition throughout Afghanistan is out of control. This hospital had to expand its malnutrition ward to treat more and more young patients.

Safiya is severely underweight

Those most affected come here from all over the country – if they can.

Seven-year-old Safiya has just arrived with her family. They traveled from Paktia province, about a six-hour drive from Kabul.

Safiya is severely underweight. Her face is skeletal, she finds it difficult to sit up on the hospital bed.

But for the first time in weeks, the family has hope. His condition is improving after just one day here.

“I’m hopeful,” her mother told me. “She is already much better than she was before we arrived.

But for many other parents in the malnutrition ward, there is nothing but despair.

As her mother cries by her bedside, two-year-old Shereen Khan lies motionless on her side. He has what appears to be bed sores all over his back and tubes attached to his nose.

His mother Gulbashra, a housekeeper from Helmand province, is terribly poor.

Fighting back tears, she explains that her baby boy, her only child, started to fall ill four months ago, but she had to leave him at home to go to work.

Shereen Khan has deteriorated and she constantly watches by his bedside, hoping he will pull through.

Like so many others in Afghanistan, Gulbashra doesn’t care who is to blame – she just wants her son to live.

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