The Taliban did it again. Killed a medical team whose only crime was to travel into isolated areas to treat eye disease.

Their “crime”? They were supposedly being “spies”, even though only a few of the medical team were Americans. Oh yes: And they were (gasp) Christians. Can’t have that, can we. Kill the infidel. Never mind that the lead optometrist was well known in Afghanistan, fluent in local dialects and working there for over 20 years.

So what were this team of eye doctors doing there?

From the BBC:

Dr Woo gave up a well-paid job with private healthcare provider Bupa to work in Afghanistan for minimal financial reward….Her blog posts reveal that she was driven by a desire to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans – and spread the word about their plight.

And how about Dr. Tom Little, a New York Optometrist who was also killed? He’s been working in Afghanistan for over 20 years doing this type of work with a Christian NGO that provides medical care as a form of Christian charity, and does not seek converts.

Since about 1980 the Littles have provided eye care in Afghanistan through the National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR) Eye Care Program. It provides testing, eye drops and ointments, corrective lenses and surgery to residents of isolated and impoverished small villages in the mountainous regions of the northern part of the country.

When I worked in Africa, we used to have a team of eye specialists who visited us every six months or so. The team included optometrists, ophthalmologists, and nurses. They would examine folks, give out glasses, and do simple surgery for cataracts and repair trachoma damaged eyelids.
This last disease, trachoma, is a major cause of blindness in much of the third world. It is a virus like bacteria that causes conjuntivitis/blepharitis (commonly known as “pink eye”).

But unlike simple viral conjunctivitis, the infection doesn’t go away. You end up with chronically sore eyelids, with pus around the eyes. To make things worse, after years of infection, the eyelid starts to scar from the infection, and the eyelashes turn inward. This means that every time you blink, the eyelashes scratch the eyeball, leading to ulcers of the cornea, scars on the cornea, and even perforation of the globe leaving only a shrunken white eyeball.

Illustration from the CarterCenter of Emory University, which does similar work.

Putting cheap antibiotic ointment into pharmacies will stop mild and early infections, but for more severe infections, you need antibiotics by mouth, and once the eyelid is scarred, you need eyelid surgery to turn the eyelashes outward so they stop scratching the eyeball.

According to my Medscape article (registration required) in Afghanistan over 80thousand folks have a severe chronic infection from the germ and risk losing their vision from the infection.

When I worked in Africa, we had a nasty guerrilla war going on (aka “war of liberation” supported by the left and the world council of churches), so the team had to fly in and land on a nearby football field when they visited. Driving would have been cheaper, but there was danger of being attacked, or hitting a landmine on the isolated dirt roads.

These fears were well founded, because during the last year I worked there, 30 fellow missionaries (what we would now call NGO workers, since not all worked for churches) were killed.

Well, times haven’t changed, merely the explanation by the bad guys who want to justify their deeds.

The guy who organized the team and sent them in should have known better, and is now lamenting: how could it be the Taliban?

“We are a humanitarian organization. We had no security people. We had no armed guards. We had no weapons,” he said.

Apparently the naive twit thinks good intentions will stop thugs.
As anyone familiar with such things can tell you: The dirty little secret is that these guys are thugs, not pious religious people fighting for their people’s freedom…and as I explained (at BNN about Haiti), medical personnel are a frequent target, since they have drugs, money, and don’t fight back.

and this group wasn’t the first time NGO workers have been deliberately killed there.

In 2007, 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and the rest were later released. In August 2008, four International Rescue Committee workers, including three women, were gunned down in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Makaipablog.

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