Editing by Brontë H. Lacsamana. Footage courtesy of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF).
By Patricia B. Mirasol
Filipina doctor Evangeline Cua talks about the situation on the ground in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where she is assigned with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF).
“During the second day of the heavy fighting, a young man was brought in with a gunshot wound in the arm,” she narrated in a video recorded on Aug. 14. “An old man who turned out to be his father was crying in front of me.”
The family was sleeping when an airstrike happened. The man’s son died instantly, while the other took a bullet that hit an artery in his arm. A tourniquet applied by his father saved his life, said Dr. Cua. Both had to travel four hours to seek medical care.
“It really affected me. The old man was crying about his children, about losing his house and almost all they have,” she added. “This is representative of what is happening in Afghanistan. There might be worse things going on that the media does not know.”
MSF has four Filipinos — one doctor, two nurses, and one finance manager — in different projects around Afghanistan.
Dr. Cua wanted to be a surgeon from the age of 12, and knew early on that she wanted to work with MSF. She has been on more than 11 MSF assignments over the past five years. Prior to joining the organization’s international staff, Dr. Cua was assigned to a coastal town shortly after it was affected by super typhoon Haiyan.
As she put it, “MSF [is about] going to places where treatment is hard to access… I have something to offer. I can do more in these places.”
She is now stationed at the Kunduz Trauma Centre in Kurduz, a city in northern Afghanistan with a population of around 374,746. Construction of the new center started three years ago after it was bombed in 2015, and it is scheduled to open this week.
“We now accept accidental trauma patients too, like vehicular patients, aside from war-wounded patients,” she said. Since the Taliban seized control of the city on Aug. 8, the center has been receiving civilians who have been caught by stray bullets in a crossfire.
The 51-bed trauma center has an outpatient department, an intensive care unit, a female ward, two male wards, and an operating theater with eight surgeons.
“We are offering physiotherapy and laboratory services, as well as mental health services in the second phase of our operation,” she added.
MSF’s office space in the area was also transformed into a 25-bed trauma unit last month during the clashes between government forces and the Taliban.
JUST LIKE US
The Filipina surgeon expressed a mixture of excitement and fear over coming back to Afghanistan, the country where she was first assigned with MSF.
“I worked with a lot of really amazing people and I was excited to see and work with them again,” she said. “On the other hand, I also have my fears. If the context becomes unstable…, are we going to be evacuated from Kunduz safely? Will both parties of this war respect our neutrality?”
Kunduz has been quiet since the Taliban took over, Dr. Cua said. Like those who remain in the city, the MSF team stay inside their compound.
Dr. Cua said the Afghans are like any of us, and only want to live a peaceful life.
“They want to go to work in the morning and go home at night without fearing they might get shot going to or coming back from work,” she said. “The kids here are like kids in other parts of the world. They also want to go to school, they also just want to play.”
But unlike other kids, Afghan children live in perpetual danger. Two girls, ages nine and 10, were brought to the hospital when an explosive device they were playing with on the street detonated.
“One of the girls had an amputation; the other had severe injuries on her legs. It’s really heartbreaking,” Dr. Cua said. “Losing your leg at the age of nine is devastating, but that’s the reality.”