Respiratory diseases kill 2-4 people daily - Health Ministry

KABUL, 2 March 2009 (IRIN) - As many as 3,000 people seek treatment for cold-related respiratory diseases in Afghanistan every day, and of these, 2-4 die because of lack of access to decent healthcare, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has said.

“Every winter we see a marked increase in respiratory diseases,” Abdullah Fahim, an MoPH spokesman, told IRIN in Kabul.

Pneumonia, asthma and other breathing problems peak among vulnerable people, particularly children, in sub-zero winter temperatures.

The situation is aggravated by high levels of pollution in the main cities.

About nine million of the country’s estimated 27 million people are food insecure, making them prone to seasonal and contagious diseases, health specialists say.

Over 230,000 people are also living in wretched conditions as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in tents, mud huts and dilapidated buildings; they generally lack access to heating, clothing and health services.

Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with pneumonia and respiratory infections killing thousands of children every year, according to health workers.

Mobile health teams

In October 2008 the MoPH reported the establishment of 129 mobile health teams tasked with assisting needy communities during winter when snow often blocks access to local health centres.

The teams have helped prevent a major outbreak of winter diseases so far this year, but they are hampered by snow and transport difficulties, MoPH’s Fahim said.

Because many roads in rural areas are rough and become impassable in winter, mobile health workers also use animals or trek to villages on foot to deliver life-saving health services.

“We’re facing access problems in some mountainous and rugged regions in Paktika, Nooristan, Daykundi, Badghis and Badakhshan provinces,” Fahim said.

In the volatile south and east health workers’ access to tens of thousands of people has been impeded by insurgency-related violence and deliberate attacks on aid workers, MoPH officials said.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that because immunisation coverage is still very low in Afghanistan, preventable diseases kill thousands of children annually, with respiratory infections being among the leading causes of childhood deaths. 

 Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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