PAN (Translated by RAWA), May 28, 2008

Increase of Tuberculosis Among Afghan Women

"In Afghanistan, due to bad economical conditions, most families use wood while cooking and women have jobs such as weaving carpets and baking bread; and all of these are causes that pave the way for tuberculosis."

Zarghoona Salehi

Not observing the pause between births, early marriages, not going to healthcare centers, being in contact with other diseases are the causes of increase in the number of women with tuberculosis in the country.

According to the information of the Ministry of Public Health, last year about 40,000 women had this disease and about 8,500 of them died. 70% of the people with this disease were women.

Tuberculosis is an infectious and contagious but treatable disease. Continuous coughing, weight loss, going unconscious, less appetite, fever and sweating at night are among the important signs of this disease. The bacteria of tuberculosis can be transmitted through breathing.

Dr. Mohammad Hashim Wahaj, head of hospital and Wahaj Diagnosis Clinic in Kabul, told PAN that conservative customs among the people in the country don’t allow women to go to health care centers and this is one of the chief causes of the increase of this disease among women.

While saying that lack of food for women in some families is another cause of increase in women suffering from tuberculosis, he said, “As I witnessed myself in the most rural areas of the country, women ate the leftovers of the men at night and mostly didn’t prepare any food for themselves during the day.”

He claimed that a person not having enough food has a weaker immune system and so is more likely to get this disease than a person who has a stronger immune system. He said that these are the reasons why there are a higher number of women having tuberculosis than men.

He added that people should be made aware of this matter and the Ministry of Public Health should give more importance to the matter.

Dr. Suraya Rahim Sabhirang, the person in charge of women’s rights in the Independent Commission of Human Rights in Afghanistan, agreed with Dr. Wahaj’s statements in an interview with PAN on May 28, 2008. She said that in most of the areas in the country it is customary that men and children eat first and then women can eat.

While not naming the places, she added, “In the most remote areas of the country no attention is paid to the woman’s sickness. When she gets very sick they give her Greek medicines.”

She also called these problems as human rights violations and said that the government should pay more attention to ending these problems.

Azizullah Akhgar, head of human resources of the Ministry of Public Health and a teacher in the Kabul University saw it necessary that a survey be conducted throughout the country to know why the rate of tuberculosis is high among women.

He added that in Afghanistan, due to bad economical conditions, most families use wood while cooking and women have jobs such as weaving carpets and baking bread; and all of these are causes that pave the way for tuberculosis.

Dr. Abdul Wudood Haideri, deputy of the National Institute for Tuberculosis in the Ministry of Public Health also agreed with Akhgar.

The accounts of patients suffering from this disease also prove the statements of the doctors.

18-year old Samiya, a resident of Chahar Qila in Wazir Abad of Kabul suffers from tuberculosis. On May 20, 2008 she told PAN, “Our financial conditions are very bad. We get food at one time and not the other time. Doctors say I have got this disease for this reason.” She also said because of poor financial conditions she has been weaving carpets since 9 years of age.

In Afghanistan, many women do the housework and are mostly responsible for taking care of the sick ones in the family as well.

According to the Ministry of Public Health there are 991 tuberculosis treatment centers in the country presently. They say that the establishment of such centers is continuing throughout the country and treatment is absolutely free.

Based on the information of the World Health Organization, every year more than 9 million people get this disease and more than one and a half million die of this disease.

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