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Archive for April 2006

Surgeons describe shared tour of duty caring for victims of war in Afghanistan

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Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/19/06
BY RICHARD QUINN

In the mountains around Kabul, Afghanistan, the Moss brothers — a symbiotic set of identical twin doctors tough to tell apart in peacetime — lost their identities.

There, among villagers, soldiers and the pressures of war, the two Army reservists were no longer Vince and Vance, they were doganagi. The word means “duality,” but in this case it translated to “same-face healers.”

“We’d wake up in the morning and there’d be a line of mothers, fathers, grandchildren waiting for us,” Vance Moss said. “We knew that we were there to save lives.”

Physicians often brag about the power their craft holds.

Medicine, its purveyors preach, affects every facet of our daily lives.

The Moss brothers, staff members at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, are no different, pledg-ing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

Eagle Scouts

Born to an Army soldier and an oceanographer, the Moss boys grew up poor in Upper Marlboro, Md., a suburb between Washington and the Chesapeake Bay.

They knew — fast — that they would be more than brothers.

They’d be twins in every sense of that word.

“We’re going to live out the definition,” Vince said. “It was teamwork.”

The pair rose through life together. Their hobbies dovetailed. Their passions formed in tandem.

As they worked toward the Eagle Scout award they earned at 14 — the brothers get indignant when asked if they made Eagle, a glimpse into their self-imposed mantra to be the best — they both had to earn a first aid merit badge.

From there, the Hippocratic oath was merely a matter of time.

First, the boys had to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy Prep School at Fort Monmouth, Pennsylvania State University and Temple University’s medical school.

When Dad’s a soldier, discipline isn’t fear. It’s life.

So it was a natural domino effect when the boys signed up for the Civil Air Patrol as teenagers, the first step of their military careers.

“We fell in love with it right away,” Vince said, his brother nodding along beside him. “It’s do by example. It’s teach by example.”

College wasn’t exactly like that.

Penn State is a nationally ranked school for student partying, and although the men earned entry into the school’s Honor Society as freshmen, the campus didn’t offer a rigid sense of order.

Of course, the pair imposed it on themselves.

The brothers were disappointed when they got into seven medical schools in the winter of 1994.

“We applied to 15,” Vance said.

Even medical school — as difficult as that was — left the pair wanting more.

In their second year at Temple, the two enrolled in the Army Reserves. Both are now majors in the medical corps.

Uncle Sam wanted them

Fast forward to Sept. 17, 2005.

Vance came home from another day as a renal transplant fellow at a Long Island hospital.

A large yellow envelope was at the front door.

He was awash in military intuition, the same clairvoyance a war widow experiences when a Military Police car comes to the house.

“I immediately knew it was my orders,” Vance said. “I was excited. Ready to go.”

The brothers shipped out to Fort Bliss in Texas — military rules prevent them from saying much more — and the pair soon joined a volunteer mission to provide unique medical care in and around Kabul.

The menace of a war zone became palpable moments after the Moss brothers sprang from their plane.

They introduced themselves to their translator and saw a child with no legs.

They then introduced themselves to their work spaces.

Crumbling farces of what Shore residents expect from hospitals, the operating rooms were reminiscent of the early days of American medicine.

Lights were powered by temperamental generators, so they flickered on and off with no warning. Sponges swam together in dirty buckets, a jarring sight to surgeons used to compulsive sterility.

Some hospitals had no soap.

“Here, it’s taken for granted — antibiotics, drainage equipment,” Vance said. “There, as a surgeon, we have to use the basics.”

Birth defect corrected

They don’t remember his name. They can’t forget his face.

He was 14, with thick hair, neatly cropped around the ears. He looked like a regular boy, except his plastic legs were propped up on the stretcher next to him.

He needed surgery to correct hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of a boy’s urethra is not at the tip of the penis, but somewhere else along the shaft.

The colonel the brothers served under said nobody would operate on the boy.

“We were his last resort,” Vance said. “And when we evaluated this kid, the colonel cried.”

Then, they fixed the child. They fixed a lot of other people, too.

In February, the pair returned to their condo, five blocks from Central Park. Life went back to its familiar routine, although house hunting in Ocean County and the worries of opening their first medical office didn’t seem as consuming as they previously had.

“It was depressing in the first few months,” Vance said. “You come back to the luxuries of New York City and everything slowed down, even for New York. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off.”

The high-pressure emotion may be gone, but the memories are concrete — especially about that boy. And like the rest of their lives, the experience was shared.

“It was very spiritual,” Vance said. “I don’t have to go home and tell him how it feels to be eating kebabs, feeling the snow and the gravel beneath your feet. . . . We were there together, experiencing that. That’s an experience we’ll never forget, as long as we live.”

Practicing their specialties — Vince is a thoracic surgeon, Vance is in training as a renal transplant surgeon — will bring cutting-edge technology and nimble hands to the Shore.

The brothers will soon open Mid-Atlantic Multi-Specialty Surgical Group LLC in Jackson. A second office will follow in Howell.

But they quietly admit their recent tour of shared duty — a classified assignment that shuttled them across a war-scarred landscape nearly 7,000 miles from their tony Upper East Side condominium — was true healing.

The pair volunteered to trek to an Afghan National Army hospital in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

M16’s and tanks patrolled the grounds, but the MASH-like unit wasn’t entirely secure. It couldn’t be. A place too militarized would startle patients, and they wouldn’t have lined up for medical asylum.

The Moss brothers didn’t feel entirely safe, either.

They drew looks as some of the first black men the natives had ever seen. They wondered if they were jeopardizing their jobs at Kimball to be in a war zone.

Plus, the fractious relations between rebels and soldiers could have killed them in the time it takes a sniper’s bullet to fire.

Still, as the 34-year-olds performed bowel resections, urological repairs and amputations, they saw what medicine means to those who need it.

“We saved lives,” Vance said. “Every day, we saved lives.”

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Written by afghandevnews

April 19, 2006 at 3:44 am

Posted in Health

Temporary marriage catches on in Afghanistan

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Wed Apr 19, 1:31 AM ET

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) – Twenty-nine-year-old mechanic Payenda Mohammad was married last month in a simple ceremony in this northern Afghanistan town, but the marriage only lasted four hours.

Which was exactly what he wanted.

“Nobody would give me their daughters to marry because I didn’t have family or money,” says Payenda, who ended up in Iran after his parents and a sister were killed in a bombing raid about 15 years ago.

“I started doing short marriages in Iran,” he says. “When I came back to Mazar-i-Sharif, I continued,” he says. He’s now been married 20 times.

In a country where most marriages are for life and all divorces are a scandal, the idea of the contract or temporary marriage is beginning to catch on.

Afghanistan’s majority Sunni Muslims bans the marriages, known as fegha in the main Dari language, but the Shiites accept them and some people here, like Payenda, got the idea from Iran.

Such marriages were rare in Afghanistan before the Sunni-dominated Taliban regime was overthrown in late 2001, ending 25 years of war.

But with the return of many of the nearly two million Afghans who fled to Shiite Iran during the conflict, contract marriages have been gaining popularity — although they are still unusual.

The process is simple. To get married, a couple takes an oath in front of a mullah that makes them man and wife for a stipulated period of time — from a few hours to a few years.

Afterwards they can then choose to marry each other again or move on.

Shiite clerics defend the practice as something that benefits both the men and women.

“For a man it means he doesn’t have to think about women or sex. For a woman, it means she has a husband to feed and take care of her and her children,” said Sayed Barat Ali Razawi, a Shiite mullah in Mazar-i-Sharif.

He says the Prophet Mohammed himself gave permission for soldiers to have short marriages while they were away from home, and for women to marry temporarily if their real husbands had died.

Sunni Muslims say this is wrong.

“In my opinion contract marriage is just for sex,” says Mullah Azizullah Mofley, a Sunni cleric, insisting the prophet later outlawed the practice.

Young people “abuse contract marriages just for sex by marrying for just one or two hours,” he says.

But Nader Nadery, from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, says the contract marriage is not a way to legitimise sex but an attempt to find a practical solution to difficult circumstances like poverty.

“It is not a new trend to overcome a strict moral code,” Nadery says. “It started hundreds of years ago.”

In a normal marriage, an Afghan groom must pay a dowry that can be worth anything from 1,000 to several thousand dollars. He then has to pay for the wedding party, which can cost hundreds more.

“I waited for five years but no one came to our house to marry me,” says Nazira, whose first husband was killed by the Taliban.

“My father was so poor that he couldn’t feed our family. One day a man came to our house and told my father that he wanted to marry me for seven months. My father had heard about contract marriages so he accepted,” she says.

Her husband Mohammad Asef, a 38-year-old shopkeeper, learned the custom in Iran, where he had gone to work for a year after his wife died, leaving him with two children.

“When I returned to Afghanistan my aunt helped me find this woman,” he says, gesturing to Nazira, with whom he is halfway through a six-month contract.

Mohammad is her second contract husband.

“Short marriages have a lot of benefits for women whose husbands have died,” she says, as her husband serves customers in the store.

“It helps them look after their children better and they don’t need to go out for sex. Also, we don’t have to pay for a wedding party because with a short marriage we just go to a mullah.”

She says a regular marriage would have cost them 3,000 dollars.

“It is very difficult,” Nazira says. “Where would we find that kind of money?”

Written by afghandevnews

April 19, 2006 at 3:42 am

Posted in Culture and Arts

Afghanistan: Poppy Eradication Drive Launched In Herat Province

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Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
TUESDAY
[ 18.04.2006 – 16:40 ]

Afghan authorities have launched a poppy-eradication campaign in the western province of Herat as part of the government’s attempts to wipe out opium cultivation. But the project has angered poor Afghan farmers who depend on the illegal income that poppy harvests generate. Afghan troops with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers have been deployed to protect police as they slash down the blooming flowers.

PRAGUE, April 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Afghan police chop down poppy plants in Herat Province as the pink flowers have reached the point where they could be harvested for opium.

Heroin and morphine are derived from the plants. But the income generated by such crops is illegal. And the funds empower warlords who use the money to pay salaries to their illegal militias.

The Afghan government says Taliban fighters also are using money from illegal poppy farming to fund their insurgency.

Indeed, the illegal narcotics trade continues to dominate Afghanistan’s economy. According to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, illegal drugs account for an estimated 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product and about 87 percent of the world’s opium supply. More than 350,000 Afghan families — roughly 10 percent of the population — are thought to be dependent on opium production for their livelihood.

Among them is Abdul Ghafar, a poppy farmer in the province’s Shendand district, about 130 kilometers south of the city of Herat. Tears of rage swelled from his eyes on April 16 as he shouted at the Afghan police who were chopping down his entire crop.

“This field feeds 20 members of my family,” he said. “They all rely on this crop. Why are you destroying it? We are poor people. What should I do after this? I want the government to compensate this. You are Muslims. Why are you doing this? For God’s sake, please don’t destroy my field. I am happy to be killed. But don’t destroy my field.”

In 2002, the Afghan government offered poppy farmers up to $500 per acre of destroyed poppies. According to UN estimates, that same acre can earn a poppy farmer more than $6,000. Another offer included seeds for alternate crops. But many farmers have complained to RFE/RL that they have never received any compensation.

Jamal Hussain, another poppy farmer in Herat Province, says the Afghan government should keep its promise and compensate those whose crops are destroyed as part of the antinarcotics campaign.

“The government hasn’t given us anything,” he said. “Why do they have to destroy this? They should go somewhere else. We are poor people. This is the only income for my family.”

But Herat province’s governor, Sayed Hussain Anwari, says the eradication campaign is necessary to break the stranglehold that drug lords have on the Afghan economy.

“We are here to destroy the poppy fields,” Anwari said. “This is the policy of our government — to eradicate all the field-planted poppies. We will succeed with the help of God.”

Falling prices on the black market for raw opium last year due to a large harvest has helped the international community to discourage Afghan farmers from planting this year.

But United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that U.S.- led efforts to eradicate opium cultivation in Afghanistan has caused raw opium prices to nearly double — from about $100 per kilogram last October to a current black market price of about $180 per kilogram. That price level has encouraged some Afghan farmers to continuing planting opium poppies.

A recent U.S. State Department report describes Afghan heroin production as an “enormous threat to world stability.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has vowed to destroy the country’s illegal drug trade to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a narco-state.

The United States and Britain are leading the effort. Washington reportedly has earmarked about $700 million for the campaign. Britain already has contributed about $100 million and is seeking another $300 million from other countries in the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition.

Written by afghandevnews

April 18, 2006 at 6:41 am

Posted in Drugs