Over half the population at risk of malaria -
KABUL, 25 April 2008 (IRIN) - Over half of
Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million population – and
especially pregnant women and children - are
vulnerable to malaria, according to Afghanistan's
Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).
MoPH says that 14 of the country's 34 provinces are
identified as "high risk" areas where, plasmodium
vivax, a malaria parasite, is prevalent.
"About 14 million people across the country are at
risk of malaria," Najibullah Safi, programme manager
for National Malaria and Leishmaniasis Control (NMLC)
at MoPH, said in Kabul.
Landlocked Afghanistan has the second highest
number of malaria cases in the Eastern Mediterranean
according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
The MoPH and WHO estimate that every year up to 1.5
million cases of malaria occur throughout the country,
but most go undiagnosed.
Figures verified by the Health Ministry indicated
that only 433,412 malaria patients received treatment
from March 2006 to March 2007.
"Up to 98 percent of malaria cases were plasmodium
vivax – a less life-threatening form of the disease -
and only two percent were falciform, the most life
threatening form of the disease," Safi said.
While malaria kills over one million people in
Africa and Asia, according to WHO [http://www.who.int/malaria/faq.html],
just 25 malaria-related fatalities were confirmed in
Afghanistan in 2007 - [http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/worldmalariaday/index.html].
Weak diagnosing capacity
Only about 20 percent of the total 443,412 patients
who received malaria treatment last year were
clinically diagnosed malaria-positive, NMLC reported.
"About 80 percent of all malaria patients who were
treated last year [over 350,000 patients] were
suspected cases and were not confirmed through
laboratorial tests," the manager of NMLC said.
While malaria treatment is included in MoPH's basic
health services package, which reaches up to 85
percent of the population through 1,429 health
facilities nationwide, there are not enough facilities
to diagnose the disease.
"We do not have laboratories in all our health
facilities in the country and therefore cannot do
proper laboratory tests to confirm every suspected
malaria case," Safi said. "It's a huge problem," he
Health specialists warn that any use of
anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine and
hydroxychloroquine can badly affect the health of a
person not suffering from malaria.
"If you give anti-malarial drugs to a pregnant
woman or a child it can seriously put their health at
risk," warned Abdul Karim Norzai, a paediatrician in
Ranked the fifth least developed country in the
world, Afghanistan does not have adequate resources,
or the technical capacity to wipe out the parasite in
the foreseeable future, health officials say.
The country is trying to control malaria within
five years (2007-2012) with a US$28.3 million fund
from the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis
To control the parasite the MoPH plans to
distribute 1.2 million insecticide-treated bed nets to
vulnerable communities, particularly in high-risk
provinces, in 2008.
Immunised children and pregnant women will receive
bed nets for free, while others will have to pay a
subsidised price, MoPH said.
Malaria is a major public health problem in
Afghanistan, which not only threatens the health of
millions of people but also affects human productivity
and development, and traps vulnerable communities in
continuing poverty, experts say.
Afghanistan is acutely prone to malaria due to its
tropical climate, paddy fields, poor waste management
and other environmental factors, MoPH said in a
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reflect the views of the United Nations]