KABUL — More than half a million dollars in U.S. aid money went toward building a hospital in rural Afghanistan that lacks clean water and sufficient electricity and is failing to provide minimum health care for its patients, according to a report released Wednesday by an American government watchdog.
The Salang Hospital, which opened its doors in Parwan province a year ago, is plagued by a lack of clean water, electricity and basic equipment, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found in an investigation.
The understaffed personnel at the facility are doing their best with what they have, but because the hospital was not built to the standards called for in the contract, it is “functioning more as a medical clinic than as a hospital with surgical and diagnostic care,” the report concluded.
“Most notably, there is no clean, permanent water supply and virtually no electrical power,” investigators wrote. “As a result, patients, including newborn babies, are bathed in untreated river water and, at night, only three light bulbs provide illumination to treat emergency patients.”
In addition, the hospital building itself suffers from structural weaknesses that put it at increased risk of collapse, as it is located in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of the country, the report said.
The hospital was constructed through a $597,929 contract awarded to an Afghan company, Shafi Hakimi Construction. As it was being constructed in 2012, inspectors from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan reviewed the site and found deficiencies. Nevertheless, the contractor was paid in full without the problems being fixed, according to SIGAR.
From the report
USFOR-A defended the hospital in a news release issued on Tuesday in anticipation of the report.
“The U.S.-funded 20-bed Salang Hospital represents a significant step forward in medical services for local Afghans who previously had access to minimal medical care and were forced to travel 30 kilometers down treacherous mountain roads to obtain higher level hospital services,” the statement read.
U.S. officials acknowledged that water for the facility was provided by a local river, but insisted that it was disinfected use.
Shah Wali Shahid, deputy governor of Parwan province, told Stars and Stripes, however, that the facility has long suffered from problems.
“The hospital had some problems from the beginning, and we told the contractor and [U.S. officials] at that time to solve them,” he said.
SIGAR recommended that USFOR-A determine why the hospital was not built to proper specifications; whether disciplinary action may be needed; and what could be done to fix the problems.
As of the time when SIGAR released the report, USFOR-A had not issued a formal response.
“The staff of Salang hospital should be commended for making the best of the limited facility,” SIGAR investigators concluded. “However, the hospital does not serve the medical needs of the people of Salang district as intended and may be a danger to its patients and staff because of the potential for the structure’s collapse in an earthquake.”
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.