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Exiting Kabul

By Jackie Powder

When Cyrus Engineer closed the School’s Afghanistan office door on April 1, it ended a 10-year project to help the war-torn country build a health care system.

“We were essentially the eyes and ears [of the government] to tell them how their health system was performing,” says Engineer, DrPH ’08, MHS ’03, MHA, the project’s country director since November 2011.

Under contract with the Afghan Ministry of Health, International Health (IH) researchers hired about 500 local people, mainly as data collectors, and evaluated some 750 health facilities annually.  They guided officials in shaping effective policies by assessing the performance of primary health care and hospitals.

Data from the project’s household surveys show dramatic gains in key health indicators over the past 10 years, as well as improvements in access to health care and quality of services, says David Peters, MD, DrPH ’93, MPH, who oversaw the Afghanistan work and is now IH chair.

Logistically, researchers on the ground faced daunting challenges. “I’m most proud of my field teams who put their lives at risk to get data,” Engineer says, “because they were so passionate and keen to help the Afghan people.”