Tuberculosis spreading in Afghanistan killing thousands

AFP, March 25, 2000

KABUL, March 25 (AFP) - The protracted Afghan conflict has helped spread tuberculosis in this impoverished country, killing between 22,000 and 33,000 people every year, health officials said Saturday, marking World Tuberculosis Day.

Mohammad Shah Neikzad, head of the Afghanistan National Tuberculosis Institute said "tuberculosis deaths come to 22,000 to 33,000 (annually)," adding "there are 20,000 to 30,000 new cases recorded every year in addition to 44,000 to 66,000 positive cases that we have at the moment."

"The disease is spreading all over the country due to the economic problems of the people," he added.

He said 75 percent of victims were young people and 70 percent were female.

Neikzad said the disease was hard to bring under control as his institute lacked funds.

The 21-year-long war, which broke out with the 1979-1989 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, had interrupted all tuberculosis control programmes in the country, he said.

The ruling Taliban religious militia, which holds most of the country, is currently battling a northern-based opposition alliance headed by former defence minister Ahmad Shah Masood.

He urged the Taliban administration to make a "political commitment" and the public to cooperate in curtailing the disease .

"The fighting has interrupted our programmes. We are endeavouring to rehabilitate it," he told a gathering of health officials here.

Mohammad Dayem Kakar, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO), said there were many tuberculosis patients just waiting to die due to a lack of health care in the areas close to the frontlines.

He also said the fighting made it difficult to present a precise figure for tuberculosis cases in the country.

There were reports the disease was spreading in central parts of the country, he said, suggesting other areas were similarly affected.

"Steps have been taken in the past three years. But we have not yet reached our targets as regards the disease control," Kakar said. "There might be more cases as we lack a precises census due to fighting."

According to the WHO official, people in Ghorband and Darae Souf to the northwest of Kabul, both battle grounds between the Taliban and Masood, lacked any tuberculosis health care.

"Ghorband is a classic example of the disease in the country," he said.

But health care was not any better even in the capital's only hospital.

Around 20 female patients were languishing in dirty beds in this two-storey building in the absence of running water, electricity and proper care.

A dead, swollen dog was lying only three meters (yards) away from the hospital's gate which had only one, absent, nurse, three workers and one official.

"Our nurse has gone home. These workers take care of the patients," one official said, adding the patients were fed only plain rice for lunch and dinner.

He said MED AIR, an international aid group, was supplying medicine to the hospital.

Kathy Fiekert, MED AIR medical coordinator said they had supported the national institute for the past three years.

"We support them with medicines and incentives for the staff," she said.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g