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Afghans Respond to MSF Withdrawal from Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement on Tuesday announced that it had decided to end activities and withdraw from Dasht-e-Barchi maternity hospital in Kabul following the attack on the hospital on May 12.

“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced our decision to end activities and withdraw from Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, Afghanistan, following the brutal attack on our maternity wing on 12 May, in which 16 mothers were systematically shot dead. An MSF midwife, two children aged 7 and 8, and six other people present at the time of the attack were also killed,” said MSF.

According to the statement: “The decision comes with the understanding that while no information has emerged about the perpetrators or motive of the assault, mothers, babies and health staff were the deliberate targets of the attack, and that similar attacks may occur in the future.”

“Today MSF took a very difficult decision, but a very necessary decision to leave Dasht-e-Barchi, this decision is very painful for us and it is more painful for population of Dasht-e-Barchi. We all know that access to health care, access to maternal is already very difficult in Dasht-e-Barchi and we are very cautious by leaving the neighborhood in PD3,” said Filipe Ribeiro, MSF representative for Afghanistan.

In reaction to the MSF’s decisions, doctors at Dasht-e-Barchi maternity hospital have said that the move will seriously impact the health delivery services at the hospital.

“This is a 100-bed hospital, but it has 60 employees, the maternity ward had 320 employees, there will be some problems ahead,” said Abdul Ayoub Faizi, the head of the nursing department of Dasht-e-Barchi maternity hospital.

“We were aware that our presence in Dasht-e-Barchi carried risks, but we just couldn't believe that someone would take advantage of the absolute vulnerability of women about to give birth to murder them and their babies,” said Thierry Allafort-Duverger, MSF Director General. “But it did happen.”

“Today, we have to accept reality: higher walls and thicker security doors won’t prevent such horrific assaults from happening again,” said Allafort-Duverger. “To remain would mean to factor in such loss of human lives as a parameter of our activity, and this is unthinkable.”

Over the past few weeks, local elders in Dahst-e-Barchi held several meetings with MSF to convince the body to continue its operation in the area.

“We requested that they do not cut their aid, because our people are very poor,” said Sakhi Bashardost, a member of Dasht-e-Barchi health delivery services.

“The main issue is that the government has not clarified to us that what was the target of the suicide attackers, did they want to kill the women or the children or us? They (MSF) want answers for it,” said Ali Jan Arefi, a member of the health council in Dasht-e-Barchi.

The elders of Dasht-e-Barchi also called on the Afghan government to share the outcome of their assessment with the MSF officials about the attack.

“They (MSF) will not resume their operation unless the Afghan Ministry of Health, the National Directorate of Security and the Ministry of Interior offer clarity about the main aspects of the attack for them,” said Mohammad Tahir Khalili, the head of Dasht-e-Barchi local council’s elders.

“If these doctors leave, how can the poor people afford to pay 2500 afs while consulting the private hospitals?” asked Dawlat Hussain, a local elder in Dasht-e-Barchi.

The attack left 24 people dead, mostly women and children.