Local doctor helps in Afghanistan

William Thompson

Dr. James Saltz, a long-time Tucumcari physician, has helped set up schools and medical clinics in Afghanistan, and is planning to return to Afghanistan this July to offer more assistance during a month-long stay.

Saltz said he and his wife got involved with a Filipino humanitarian group that oversees programs designed to curb hunger through better agricultural, medical and educational practices. Saltz and his wife arrived in Pakistan around June 1, 2003. They traveled by bus to the Afghan border. Saltz said that once he arrived at the border he could see a drastic change.

“At the border, the buses stopped, the railroad stopped, and the power lines stopped,” said Saltz. “It took a while to get through customs because the officials had to process everything by hand because there was no electricity.”
Saltz and his entourage traveled by car for ten hours over mountainous terrain to reach Kandahar, their base of operations in Afghanistan. Saltz said that despite the military situation on the ground, his group felt reasonably safe traveling the Afghan roads.

“There were bandits known to be in the area, and we periodically heard U.S. helicopter gunships,” said Saltz, “but we felt safe during the daytime as merchants and locals went about their business along the roads.” Saltz noted that Kandahar, a city of 600,000 to 900,000 people, had no electricity, no running water, no sewerage sytem and no telephone service or even a post office.

In Kandahar, Saltz went to work in local clinics. He said he saw patients in those clinics new to the concept of medical care. “I spent time caring for Afghan women,” said Saltz. “Some women were pregnant and had never been seen by a physician in their entire lifetimes.” Saltz said he discovered that the main way to improve the overall health of the Afghan people is preventative care.

“The life expectancy for an Afghan male is 36 years old, “ said Saltz. “The best way to improve that situation is to improve sanitation and get the needed vaccines out to all the people.” Saltz said he believes the situation in Afghanistan is improving slowly but surely, and he remained optimistic. “The U.S. military presence has definitely helped.,” said Saltz. “More buildings are going up, more services are being installed.” In addition to medical help, Saltz and has wife helped set up two schools in Afghanistan. Saltz said the villagers were reluctant to offer education to girls.

“One village outright refused to let us build a school for girls,” he said. “In the other villiage, we finally convinced them to let girls attend school. I heard that their first grade class had female students ranging in age from 6 to 16 years old due to the fact that the Taliban had outlawed education for girls during their approximately ten-year reign.”
Saltz is planning to return to Afghanistan in July. He said he will be glad to put on his stethoscope and get to work helping the Afghan people. Also, he and his wife will check on the progress of a clinic they founded in the village of Sapista, about 100 miles west of Kandahar.

“My wife and I donated roughly $35,000 of our own money to build a medical clinic in Sapista,“ he said. “It is something we wanted to do. Now, there are Afghan physicians working there. Our goal is that the clinic will one day be entirely self-sufficient.”

For information on the groups that oversee the work Saltz is doing in Afghanistan, call Dr. Saltz’ office at 461-2222.