International health insurance for NGOs – Afghanistan

Conflicts and wars not only take their toll on human lives, but also on the local environment. Whilst much publicity is focused on International efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan’s economy and social structures, less well known is the - often voluntary - work going on to rebuild the environment, part of which involves the planting of millions of trees, as a greener environment helps to improve the dusty landscape damaged by years of fighting. More greenery also means cleaner air.

The scale of environmental impacts caused by a conflict depends often on the duration of combat and the state of industrial development in the country prior to the conflict. The war in Afghanistan has lasted many years, if the Russian conflict is included. Wide scale destruction and damage to forests, water supplies, soil and wildlife has reduced the productive capacity of the countryside, and undermined both food security and the sustainable human livelihoods. If left unaddressed these environmental problems will undermine the economic reconstruction process and lead to further instability as people fight for scarce resources. The work of organisations such as the United Nations Environment Programme and their associated volunteer staff is therefore very important in any post conflict reconstruction situation.

One volunteer, Mr. Knowles got more than he bargained for whilst working in Afghanistan as a reforestation expert. In his early sixties, fit and healthy, one morning whilst going about his duties, he suddenly started to feel unwell. Following normal procedures, using his international healthcare policy, he contacted his health insurance provider, April International UK, who arranged for him to be taken in the first instance to see a local doctor. Despite tests, they were unable to diagnose the problem. Mr. Knowles’ condition began to deteriorate further, so after a further call to the 24 hour Assistance Provider, an evacuation was arranged to Dubai where a more sophisticated diagnosis could take place. Dubai was chosen as is the nearest country with world-class healthcare facilities and Mr. Knowles was rushed to the diagnostics department at one of its leading hospitals. After an extensive examination, he was found to have severe carbon monoxide poisoning, thought to have been caused by a faulty water heater in his accommodation. In a strange twist of fate, the same tests also uncovered severe blockage of the arteries, this led to Mr. Knowles needing urgent triple heart by-pass surgery.

The total cost of this life-saving treatment was close to £60,000, which included a flight back to Afghanistan for Mr. Knowles after he had recovered, so he could continue with his environmental reconstruction work. Debbie Purser, CEO at April International UK said: “Mr. Knowles’ remarkable story demonstrates the importance of having high quality comprehensive medical insurance when expatriates are working in some of the most difficult terrains. In this instance, purely by chance, the Doctors were able to find and diagnose a life threatening issue which would probably never have been found if Mr. Knowles had stayed in Afghanistan, as he had no idea just how ill he was. The well-being of our policyholders is our prime concern, and we will always do our utmost to ensure they receive the best treatment, wherever they are in the world at any time of the day or night. Our ability to offer insurance cover in this “passive war” environment was also critical, as many policies would not have been able to do this. We were delighted to have been able to provide assistance in returning him back to Afghanistan to continue his valuable work in the region.”