KABUL - Flooding, armed conflict and population displacements are factors likely to increase malaria cases in Afghanistan this year, public health officials warn.
"In 14 high-risk provinces the number of malaria patients will surpass that of 2006," Abdulwase Ashaa, director of the national anti-malaria department, told IRIN on 19 July in Kabul.
"Malaria harms the health and wellbeing of our nation and thus affects our efforts for development and prosperity," Ashaa said.
After 2002, malaria cases declined when the country received international assistance to improve its shattered public heath system.
- 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate
- 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
- 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
- 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan
- 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
However, over 260,000 cases of malaria were confirmed throughout Afghanistan in 2006, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported.
Officials say floods and heavy rainfall caused extensive destruction across the war-torn country in the last eight months. Water became contaminated which created an environment conducive to the spread of the malaria parasite.
This year, thousands of confirmed malaria cases have already been reported from some eastern, southern and northern provinces, where the disease is considered prevalent.
August and September are malaria's peak months when thousands of people, mostly women and children, fall prey to the disease.
Children under five and pregnant women are considered the most susceptible victims, experts say.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over one million people die of malaria every year in the world, most of them children and pregnant women.
In Afghanistan, almost 30 percent of Afghan children suffer anaemia for which malaria is a major contributing factor, a joint WHO and government of Afghanistan report found in 2005.
"Displaced and repatriating families are particularly vulnerable to malaria infection due to their insecure living conditions," said Najibullah Sapai, a WHO expert in Kabul.
Health officials say up to 90 percent of malaria cases in 2006 were non-lethal 'Plasmodium Vivax' and the remainder were 'Plasmodium Falciparum', which can be fatal.
Although Afghanistan's first malaria control organisation was established in 1948, the country will start recording numbers of malaria deaths from 2007, government officials said.
In an effort to curb the spread of the disease in 2007, some 454,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets will be distributed to vulnerable families in 14 provinces, Ashaa added.
Public health officials have also started work on a five-year anti-malaria national strategy through which over US$28 million - provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria - will be spent on various preventive as well as curative measures.
Health workers say they will be able to curb the spread of the illness should an outbreak occur in the coming months.
However, growing insecurity in south and southeast of the country has impeded counter-malaria efforts. "Insecurity has also affected our efforts to prevent the disease in some parts of the country," Ashaa said.
"We do not have access to some districts in Kandahar Province where malaria is a major health problem," said Abdulbari Hairat, a public health official in Kandahar.
Health officials in Kandahar's neighbouring Helmand Province - where more than 1,800 cases of malaria have been confirmed over the past few months - expressed similar concerns and condemned unrelenting armed conflict as a main obstacle in their anti-malaria efforts.