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Afghan-born doctor keeps adopted Japan city healthy while still helping his native land

Reshad also runs Karez no kai, an NPO for those in his homeland

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Since his first year of medical training at the Kyoto University-affiliated Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Afghanistan-born Khaled Reshad has worked harder than others to gain Japanese patients’ trust.

“I would usually stay at work until 11 p.m. or try to accept patients on weekends,” Reshad said, adding he did not think of it as a special service to patients.

When a person falls ill and has to see a doctor, their needs and clinic schedules don’t always coincide, so he said “it was natural” that he would work all hours to help them.

Today, the 64-year-old father of four daughters runs his own medical facility, the Reshad Clinic, in Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The clinic, which opened in 1993 and moved to a new location this past February, is now a household name in the city where his contributions to the community have gained recognition and respect.

Reshad mostly accepts patients with respiratory and cardiovascular problems. But he is conscientious about giving support and the best care possible to all people in need of medical help.

Proving his devotion to patients, he built the new facility in a park designated as an evacuation area if the long-expected Great Tokai Earthquake should finally strike.

“The clean water we are able to draw from the well drilled down right by the clinic to a depth of 40 meters can be used for treatment or as a supply of drinking water,” he said.

He said the facility has also been equipped with a power generator and a seismograph, enabling the clinic’s staff to determine the scale of earthquakes and estimate the amount of aid needed.

“I wanted to become a doctor since my third year of elementary school” in Afghanistan, Reshad recalled of the first time he learned the value of volunteering.

“I remember I saw a doctor visiting a man with tuberculosis, living in the neighborhood, who was confined to bed in his home. He would visit the man almost every day to comfort him and to assist his family members” who were hopeless and in despair.

“It was something beyond the scope of medical help,” Reshad said, adding that the sight of the doctor visiting that patient formed a decisive memory in determining which career path he wanted to pursue.

Born in the city of Kandahar and raised in the capital, Kabul, Reshad came to Japan to study in April 1969.

“I developed an interest in Japan after reading a magazine article on how the Japanese rebuilt their war-devastated country,” he said. “The way how they overcame (the hardships) with a spirit of community — for the country, and for others — all impressed me.”

After completing a one-year Japanese-language course at Chiba University, he continued his education at the university for the next two years in preparation for a medical career. In 1972, he commenced studies at Kyoto University’s Faculty of Medicine, and later completed them by earning a doctor’s degree in 1984.

Kyoto University was also the place where he met his now-deceased wife, Hideko. The two married in 1973.

In December 1977, Reshad received a license enabling him to practice medicine in Japan.

He said he always believed he would be able to contribute to his home country after completing his studies in Japan. His plan to take his family to Afghanistan, however, was disrupted by the Soviet invasion in 1979. This event was one of the reasons why he decided to put down roots in Japan.

With experience gained at several clinics and hospitals around the country, Reshad started work in 1982 as a pulmonologist and was appointed head of the respiratory department at Shimada Municipal Hospital.

Eleven years later he established his namesake Reshad Clinic.

“But patients who can come to the clinic are not those who need help the most,” he said.

Also, he said, most of the issues confronting society and people’s needs often go unnoticed. To address some of the local and neighboring communities’ challenges, Reshad has for years made house calls in and outside of Shimada.

In Japan, he said, many people — including elderly suffering from dementia or people who have disabilities — are uninsured or left without an opportunity to get sufficient care.

Reshad, who has also opened other nursing institutions in Shimada, said that of the city’s population of some 100,000, about 100 people are currently waiting to be placed in nursing homes.

“Many of those people have the same (medical) needs as those in Afghanistan,” he said.

Reshad started to aid people in his home country following the Soviet invasion. Since 1980 he has repeatedly visited refugee camps in Pakistan and later within Afghanistan to provide medical treatment.

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, “health and nutritional status has been the major concern,” he said.

“Although various international and humanitarian aid groups have been providing help since the start of the Soviet invasion and the U.S.-led air raids following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the situation in the country has not changed much,” he said.

“The international groups’ assistance is mostly directed to larger cities, while rural areas across the country, where about 80 percent of Afghan people live, get little help,” he stressed, adding that a high mortality rate and nutrient deficiency in children is still prevalent.

To address such problems, Reshad established a nonprofit organization, named Karez no kai, in 2002 aimed at providing Afghan people with medical aid and education. He named the group Karez, a word for Afghanistan’s ancient underground irrigation system, with the idea of providing aid behind the scenes, he said.

Given that more than 60 percent of those first people seeking treatment from his NPO staff were females, who were traditionally banned from consulting with a male doctor, the situation highlighted the restrictions Afghan women faced when they needed access to health care.

Sporting a long beard during his visits to Afghanistan, Reshad still visits at least once a year. He not only manages to get women to undergo checkups but has also encouraged some 50,000 women to learn how to maintain their health.

Women, while waiting in lines for a consultation, learn about hygiene or get nutritional guidance.

Like in Japan, “the real patients are not able to come to a clinic on their own,” Reshad said. He has been visiting patients in their homes and has trained local medical staff to provide people with medical help as close to their homes as possible.

“In areas where such help is unavailable, in 12 villages we’ve set up ‘health posts’ comprised of educated locals, by recommendation of local authorities, who are being trained to provide basic medical help within the same community,” he explained.

Reshad also helped open a village school in 2009. While it was built with a capacity of 480 students, the school now has more than 1,000 children attending classes, some of which are held in tents due to the ballooning number of pupils.

In Japan, Reshad has headed Shimada’s local doctors’ council since 2008, and has been awarded both Japanese and international prizes. He has also been appointed by the government to evaluate the effectiveness of international assistance projects in Afghanistan since 2001.

“When we established the NPO, we hoped to improve (the situation in Afghanistan) within five or six years, but we are expanding our activities,” he said. “I hope that someday (Afghanistan) will become a place where our help won’t be needed. This has been our goal.”

Reshad, who as a child had a vision of what a medical doctor ought to be, says that taking an interest in others is the first step in moving toward understanding people’s needs.

“There are many ways of support we can give to others, but if you take interest, you’ll be able to find your own way to contribute, your own role to fulfill.”

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