Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rubber bullets Kill

Rubber bullets can kill @ close range - not safe for crowd control

Rubber bullets were used for the first time by British forces in Northern Ireland in 1970. These "missiles" are intended to inflict superficial painful injuries, thereby deterring demonstrators from continuing further hostile activities, while at the same time avoiding serious injuries and deaths that arise with conventional firearms.

Police forces are instructed to fire the rubber bullets from a “safe range” of more than 40 m and to aim exclusively at the lower limbs of rioters. The inaccuracy of the bullets makes it difficult or impossible to avoid hitting the face, head, and chest.

Between 1970 and 1975, over 55 000 rubber bullets were fired in Northern Ireland, with an estimated death rate of one in 18 000 rounds, and serious injury rate of one in 1100 rounds. Children and teenagers have been reported to have the most severe injuries from these bullets, particularly skull fractures and brain injuries, along with injuries to the lungs, liver, and spleen.

The Israeli Police Force also uses rubber bullets to control demonstrations. Dr. Ahmad Mahajna and his researchers looked at the 201 proven rubber bullet injuries sustained by 152 persons admitted to a front-line clinic, two hospitals and a trauma center in Haifa and Nazareth, Israel following the riots in October 2000. Their paper, published in the Lancet, 26 May 2002, reviewed 61% patients who had blunt injuries and 59 (39%) with penetrating ones.

Three died from their injuries, two from brain damage after the bullets entered the skull through the eyes. The third died post-operatively following knee surgery. Long-term morbidity was noted in one patient with head and neck injury (post-traumatic psychosis), in three with facial injuries (blindness), and in two with abdominal injuries (repeated intestinal obstruction because of adhesions).

Inaccuracy of rubber bullets and improper aiming and range of use have resulted in severe injury and death.

This ammunition should therefore not be considered a safe method of crowd control.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Afghanistan From the Lens of a Doctor

(Medical volunteer Northern Afghanistan 30 May – 11 June 2002)

Afghanistan is twice the size of Malaysia. It shares land borders with China 76 km, Iran 936 km, Pakistan 2,430 km, Tajikistan 1,206 km, Turkmenistan 744 km, and Uzbekistan 137 km. Border crossings are literally a donkey ride or long walk away - hence the easy “disappearance” of wanted persons!”

The population is estimated at 21 million with four major ethnic groups: Pashtuns 38%, Tajiks 25%, Hazaras 19%, and Uzbeks 6%. 99% are Muslims (Sunni 84%). Life expectancy is 46 years (Malaysian male 70.3 yrs, female 75.2 yrs). Birth-rate is 41.4 /1,000 (Malaysian 23.5). Each woman has an average of 5.79 children with a high infant mortality of 16 % (Malaysia 0.8% in 2001). One in four Afghani children die before they reach five years. An estimated 50% of children have chronic malnutrition and 10% acute malnutrition. The maternal mortality is 17 per 1000 live births. Literacy rate (aged 15 years and over who can read and write) is estimated to be 31.5% , male: 47.2% female: 15% (1999 est.)

Afghanistan is now reputed to be a major source of hashish and the world's largest illicit opium producer, surpassing Burma.


First screening question: “Are you prepared to be raped, robbed, killed or left behind? There will be no sacrificial ‘Black Hawke’ rescue for stragglers”. If your answer is “yes”, (that includes paying for all travel, lodging, meals and insurance), a seven page questionnaire follows (presumably to exclude the mentally unstable, religiously deranged and those with any delusion of grandeur or death wish).

Warnings abound on the internet e.g. current at 07 May 2002 We strongly advise against travel to Afghanistan. There is a threat from global terrorism, including to humanitarian relief workers. The situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, extremely volatile and dangerous for foreigners”.

One travel information web page had this friendly advice: Those who still insist on travel to Afghanistan (read “suicidal”) …’’


There is an estimated 11 million unexploded ordnances (UXOs) after the 23 years of war (?more after the US versus Taliban contribution?). An estimated 500 or more mine accidents were recorded monthly, about 150 fatal. CIA has an Afghani map for UXOs - colored white (“cleared of mines”) to dark brown (where no angel would dare to tread).

Travel insurance that included repatriation of body was surprisingly cheap, less than a hundred ringgit. Why so cheap? Comment: “They don’t expect you to need a big box. DHL enough-lah” .

A quick check with my life insurance agent(s) : Sorry, your policies do not cover war zones.

A lawyer argues: “How long have you had the policy? More than one year? Most life insurance cover policy holders who commit suicide as long as it is more than one year after they sign up. Volunteers to Afghanistan – it is not reasonable that they should be not be classed in the same category. (Needless to say he is now my lawyer, if ever such need to claim should arise).

No joke – when we were in Mazar i Shariff, we passed the International Orthopedic Hospital. On one of the walls was written in English in bold letters “Do not deal with explosive items. They may kill you.” This came not far after a sign over a shop that reads “the Spare Parts of Abdul”.

The Taliban atrocities

According to the people we spoke to, public executions were carried out in the football field even in the small town of Shebarghan where we were based. Guilty women were buried to their chest and stoned to death. The goal posts were used as hanging gallows for convicted men. Shopkeepers were forced to close their shops to go and watch.

Grown men were not allowed to cut their beards. Those who were thought not to comply would be whipped by the inspectors. The beating could be quite severe. Music was totally banned. The radio only had news and statements. Inspectors would “creep around the flat roof tops” listening for the sound of music. Where this was thought to be heard, they would burst into the house. One engineer had a gun put to his head, and commanded to bring out his player or tape. Fortunately for him, they could not find any.

School was closed to girls and women teachers were forced to stay at home. Boys continued to go to school, but opportunities for leaving the country for university education was curtailed. (Turkey, prior to the late Taliban era, offered scholarship and university places for Afghanis).

The Taliban was notorious for the way they would slaughter men, women, children, dogs and farm animals without exception in the villages they conquered. When asked why they did this, the reply was “They were trained in Pakistan. This is their way of war. They think we Afghanis are not Muslim enough, so killing us is jihad”. This could explain why in some places we saw more graves than houses.


Everyone we met, including the local Governor who was the Mullah and Commander of the Mujahideen, talked about the desire for peace, “How are we to stop war, when a whole generation has grown up and their only skill is fighting. We need help to provide them alternative training and occupation”

Russian tanks stand silhouetted in the desert horizon. Abandoned armory were as many as the graves of the slain marked only by tattered cloth squares tied to bent poles. Expansive fields of ripening wheat were interspersed with desert and destroyed ruins, with people harvesting and grazing their sheep and goats. Here and there in the corner of the fields are graves, with large stones neatly arranged on them, with sometimes white and sometimes green flags.


Most toilets are P.Ls (pit latrine) where nose holding is highly recommended. Taxi drivers and locals know where cleaner ones are. Whenever team members come back from the toilets and exclaim ecstatically “so clean” it is relative to the degree of smell and the amounts of visible deposits. MBKS (local council) standards should not be implied.

Our P.L in Gosh Tepa clinic had a little curtain, that flaps happily in the wind, fixed up only for us. There was no roof or door. We did think of putting up a white flag every time someone went in, but did not get round to it. This was a good thing, in restrospect. We learned that the Talibans used to use a white flag for their flag unlike the present tricolor green, red and black Afghani flag.

The lack of a door, the type you can lock, or at least attempt to keep closed, is universal. The ability to whistle or sing badly may help to keep people at bay. It is interesting to watch the sunset over the hills as one goes about one’s business of (trying to) emptying yesterday’s meals. You really need cooperative sphincters.

Sleeping arrangements a.k.a place to lay your head

For the twelve days, one had to get used to sleeping in a room with nine erstwhile strangers, to all the noises each make before they fall asleep, as they sleep (dog-tired) and when they awake. Dawn is very early at 4:30 am, so all get (woken) up by then.

With only one pit toilet and one bathroom (water carried in little pails from the well up the hill) between us, major adjustments to our daily ablutions had to be made. I fell back to my three-minute houseman bath. Plus an extra minute for getting in and out of the salwa kameez – the XXL trousers, which is held up by string, must be properly secured if you do not wish to lose it in public.

All had to bathe with less than 2- 3 liters of well water each, brushing teeth with precious bottled water (rationed to 3 litres/day as each 1.5 l bottle cost US$ 0.53). We were thankful for the cloudy water fetched from the pond, with its happy tadpoles, strained, (hopefully, before boiling) for chyar (tea).

It was a blessing to be forced to live simply, apart from the clutter that defines us, binds us but also blinds us.

Once one is prepared to lose it all, everything else is gain.

- July 2002

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Medical Books & Journals - Donate, Don't Trash

Since starting the collection, a total of 9 cartons of books and journals have been sent to the Afghanistan Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Three Drug Reps from Glaxo Smith Kline very kindly carried 4 boxes over - they were attending a meeting in KL. Really appreciate the kindness.
I still have four boxes in the clinic to send over. (volunteers anyone?).

A shipping agent has given me a really special rate (Rm100) for sending 1MV (1m3) - about 15 cartons - by sea - door to door to KL. Will use this when the momentum of donors build up!

For those of u living around KL - if u have problem sending your donation to the embassy - do phone them (0342569400) to collect. So far they have collected the boxes from various hotels we were staying - so all u need to do is pack the books or journals in boxes and call the embassy to collect.

Let your books & journals go the extra mile - donate it today!
(MIMs, DIMs, Cds, medical progress, O&G, readers digest, national geog etc)
pass the message on.

God Bless u


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Help Afghanistan build up its libraries - donate books

You can help the kids of afghanistan by donating the books your kids no longer need to the librairies in Afghanistan - If you are a doctor or a professional, your books and journals are a precious commodity which can be put be great use in the universities there.

While their education is in the Afghani language - English is an important second language.

while i was a medical volunteer in Afghanistan, my able interpreters were young men who studied English and were interrupted in their dream to further their education in Turkey. The Taliban in the latter years made this very difficult.

Unicef is doing a great job rebuilding schools for kids and supplying them with school bags and stationary. we ran a clinic in one of the madrassahs which had the UNICEF water pump (potable and white - looking water - instead of the surface water we had to use to make our tea in the other places we stayed!!!) - people came on their donkeys to carry water back.

check out the embassy closest to you how u can send the books

Take a little time, it goes a long way in Afghanistan!!

Salaam Sejahtera

(Peace and Goodwill to you from Malaysia)

Dr tan poh tin

Book Donation Programs Sabre Foundation The SABRE Foundation runs successful book donation programs around the world. Many university presses worked with SABRE in the 1990s on a successful book donation program to libraries in Bosnia. In addition to continuing donation programs to Africa, former Soviet states, Central Asia and elsewhere, SABRE has been involved in getting books to Afghan universities and is also developing a donation program for Iraqi libraries

In 2002, a number of initiatives were undertaken to rebuild university libraries in Afghanistan:
* Purdue University of Indiana entered into a partnership with Kabul University to assist with the rebuilding of the Afghan institution. (Read more here.) The director of Purdue University Press, Thomas Bacher, notified the leaders of this partnership project that Purdue University Press would like to donate books to the Kabul University library, and suggested that other university presses donate titles as well. Click here for Purdue University Press contact information to learn more about the Purdue/Kabul partnership. * Finally, if presses wish to try to send books directly to Kabul University, we do have some information available, from Columbia University Press. Columbia recently donated a new edition of The Columbia Encyclopedia to replace the famously bullet-ridden copy owned by Kabul University.Books for the university should be sent to: Mr. Sadiq WaddidChief Librarian, Kabul Universityc/o Mr. Martin HadlowUNESCO IslamabadPO Box 203444000 IslamabadPAKISTANBoxes should be well sealed; they should also have affixed to them a sealed envelope containing a letter indicating the contents and the purpose of the contents, and stating that the contents are not meant for resale. The letter should indicate that the final destination for the books should be Muhammad Sadiq Waddid, Librarian, Kabul University Library, Kabul, Afghanistan. (Apparently books send directly to the Library will be intercepted, hence the "neutral" address.) Requested books include: Literature, History, Technology, Science, Medicine, Languages, Media/Journalism, and Reference.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Books for Afghanistan

Donate Books to Afghanistan

Have u wondered how u can help the people of afghanistan without going there?

I was a medical Volunteer in NW Afghanistan in 2002 and saw some of the schools which UNICEF have built and met the women teachers and girls.
Education is a powerful tool that will help them fight poverty, the very high mortality rates (1 in 5 kids die before their 5th birthday) and fanatic indoctrination and oppression.

If you have books or professional journals - you can donate them to build up the libraries in the schools and universities.

I have recently started collecting for Kabul University Medical faculty - books and journals from doctors I know -
Just from three doctors, we have over 90 medical books, and 168 journals (<7 yrs old).
There are more than 500 doctors in Sarawak, the state where I live in Malaysia, so I expect just by personal contacts alone, to collect much much more.

I am sending the collection to the Afghanistan Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in boxes as and when donors send them, for the embassy to forward to Kabul.

Do contact the embassy closest to you to see how u too can help, and really make a difference!

check out

Your kids books (english) are useful too, for the school libraries.

Check out your Library (or like mine - store room!) and see how your books can be put to more productive use in their lifetime!

For those in Malaysia you may contact

The Ambassador,
Embassy of Afghanistan
5th floor, Wisma Chinese Chamber
258 Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
tel 0342569400

Salaam Sejahtera
(in Malaysia this greeting means peace & goodwill to you)

Dr Tan Poh Tin