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RFDS model for Afghanistan

Tuesday, 29th April, 2008

The local Flying Doctors is being used as a model to establish an aero-medical service for the people of Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan government has approved the proposal and a senior adviser to that country's Health Minister is in the city gaining a better understanding of how the local service operates.

Dr Sayed Fazel Rabbani, a surgeon and Chief Adviser to the Afghanistan Minister of Health, arrived here yesterday accompanied by Robert Lamb, president of RMSI (Remote Medical Solutions International).

RMSI is a private company supporting the private sector health service in Afghanistan. The company conducts medical evacuations for the UN and private contractors in Afghanistan, and works closely with the Coalition military.

Mr Lamb said the situation of delivering medical services in rural Australia is almost identical to that of Afghanistan.

"Geography here means the Flying Doctors is always going to be an integral part of health in Australia," he said.

"But in Afghanistan, it's typography where accessibility is dictated by huge mountain ranges, so great that it separates communities."

He said poor roads and lack of medical workers added to the problem.

"You're never going to get enough medical workers even if you build a 1,000 bed hospital."

He said an aero-medical service (such as that modelled on the RFDS) could take a limited number of workers to the people, as well as help provide basic primary health care.

"There's also a big need to get specialist health care to the people."

He said an aero-medical service was feasible in a country wracked by war.

"The majority of the country is actually accessible to deliver those services safely.  There are very few parts where flying into an airstrip is actually dangerous.

"The danger is road movement and that restricts people moving to medical facilities. Moving by air is quite safe."

The two said providing health care to the people was an important factor in the war effort against the Taliban.

"By bringing health services to the people, you can influence the current instability of that country, where a lot of it is generated by people thinking they get no support from the Government or the Coalition," said Mr Lamb.

"Provide health care and people feel they are supported by the Government and Coalition."

Mr Rabbani said the Flying Doctors was also an Australian icon and its involvement in the humanitarian project would be a highly visible demonstration of Australia's interest in achieving stability in Afghanistan.

"Australia is one of the partners in the Coalition and at least the Coalition has brought services to the Afghan people," he said.

"It's showing the strength of the partnership."

Both Mr Rabbani and Mr Lamb expressed regret at the death of Australian soldier and ex-Broken Hill man Jason Marks in Afghanistan yesterday.

"These things are happening because the uneducated and under-serviced part of the community are easily influenced by the Taliban and outside influences," said Mr Lamb.

"The primary thing in any society to arrest those activities is education and services and if they feel they are supported, it's a lot more difficult for them to be influence."

Mr Rabbani was optimistic that Australia would continue to support his government's struggle against the Taliban.

"Hopefully so, I am very optimistic for the support of Australian Government and the aid agencies, that they have shown an interest in this humanitarian program."

He said he has so far been impressed with the Flying Doctors and his Australian hosts.

"Australians are very friendly...their breast is open to everybody."

Mr Lamb said the aero-medical model envisaged for Afghanistan has been approved and it was a matter of getting enough donor funding to move forward.

He said AusAid has shown interest in helping.

Dr Rabbani and Mr Lamb toured the local Flying Doctor base and met with medical section staff including RFDS (South Eastern Section) executive director Clyde Thomson. They also visited the University Dept of Rural Health.

Captain Clyde Thomson said he was pleased to demonstrate what the service does, including its academic framework and partnership arrangements with other local health providers.

"That set of principles are transferable to their service in Afghanistan."

Today the visitors are scheduled to join a clinic flight to Tibooburra and will visit Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation tomorrow.

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