Afghanistan facing health disaster worse than the Tsunami - Minister

UNICEF: Afghanistan has the fourth highest under five mortality rate in the world
Health Minister: Around 700 children under the age of five die every day in Afghanistan

, April 8, 2005

KABUL, 8 April (IRIN) - As Afghanistan marked World Health Day on Thursday, the country's health minister, Dr Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatimi, said it was facing a disaster worse than the Tsunami that hit Indian Ocean nations late in 2004 and killed more than 300,000 people.

Tragic facts:

RAWA photo from Kabul, Jan.2005

  • At least 6.5 million people out of a population of between 21 and 26 million are dependent on food aid, and there is a very real risk of famine.
  • Afghanistan has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world - just 44.5 years.
  • A fifth of children die before they reach the age of five.
  • About two million Afghans are now living abroad, most of them in Iran and Pakistan.
  • In Kabul, an estimated 500,000 people are homeless or living in makeshift accommodation.
  • Only 40 per cent of Afghan children are vaccinated against major diseases, and just 25 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. There is just one doctor per 6,000 people, and one nurse per 2,500 people.
  • Some 72,000 new cases of tuberculosis are reported every year. Women account for most TB deaths.
  • Up to 100 people are killed or wounded by mines and unexploded ordnance every month
  • Every year an estimated 400,000 Afghans are affected by natural disasters.

AlertNet, June 20, 2005

"We are currently being faced with a silent emergency which is heartbreaking and a big tragedy, it is worse than the Tsunami disaster," Fatimi told IRIN in the capital Kabul.

The minister estimates that around 700 children under the age of five die every day in Afghanistan due to preventable diseases and one woman dies every 20 minutes due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

Lack of resources and trained medical personnel, along with low levels of awareness and cultural factors, were the main reasons for the alarming figures in a country still recovering from nearly three decades of conflict and international isolation.

"Traditionally in rural areas people won't let women to be checked by male doctors," he said, adding that of just 3,000 doctors in the entire country, only one in six was female. "We need nearly 10,000 midwives and at the same time up to 10,000 female health workers," the minister said.

"To stand by and allow a preventable disaster from occurring is unconscionable…. The long-term consequences for Afghanistan will overturn much of the progress made in recent years," Ameerah Haq, the deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General said.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Afghanistan has the fourth highest under five mortality rate in the world. Diarrhoeal diseases are recognised as the main killer of children, caused by limited access to safe water, sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

"It is a very serious situation not only in terms of health but also because of its impact on socio-economic and development issues," Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for UNICEF, told IRIN.

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