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08 January 2002

U.S. Involved With Efforts to Improve Afghan Health Crisis

(Public health situation described as "desperate") (580)
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- In response to critical medical needs in Afghanistan,
the U.S. government, its coalition allies, and international
organizations have been providing substantial health care assistance
to the Afghan people.
The international community, through governmental and non-governmental
organizations, is working steadily to try to improve the situation as
relief workers return to Afghanistan following the defeat of the
Taliban. On December 18, the French medical aid group, Medecins Sans
Frontieres, sent additional personnel and supplies, increasing to
fifty its number of expatriate personnel in the country.
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the local
Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) are operating 48 health clinics in
different areas of the Afghanistan, each with the capacity to provide
care to 50,000 patients a month.
The U.S. has contributed to the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) program to vaccinate at
least 9 million Afghan children against measles, a disease that kills
an average of 35,000 Afghan children every year. Chulho Hyun,
Spokesperson for UNICEF, reported January 8 that more than 257,000
children had been vaccinated so far.
Part of the $320 million U.S. assistance program to Afghanistan,
announced in October 2001, supports the WHO and UNICEF program aimed
at providing enough emergency health kits to enable health workers to
treat 1.4 million people for three months.
The health kits contain standard manuals offering guidance in
diagnosis and treatment, antibiotics to treat pneumonia and other
conditions, anti-malarial drugs, pain medication and anesthetics. The
kits also contain medical supplies such as syringes, sutures,
bandages, soap, examination gloves and various medical instruments.
To reduce the maternal mortality rate, WHO and several
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are training traditional
midwives, or birth attendants, to help expectant mothers who are
reluctant to visit health clinics, or are unable to do so because they
live in remote areas.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is participating
in this program as part of its $4,235,000 funding of the International
Medical Corps (IMC). The IMC established a traditional birth attendant
training program in the Karukh district in December 2001. The program
follows WHO/UNICEF standard curriculum to provide training for 22
traditional birth attendants over one-and-a-half months. With USAID
funding, IMC is also in the process of rehabilitating a maternity home
in Herat with local NGO partner Ibn Sina, and will provide essential
medicines and equipment for it.
According to data from an October 2001 report by WHO, the medical
situation is dire in Afghanistan. There is only one physician for
every 50,000 people, and Afghanistan ranks second worldwide in
maternal mortality, with 17 deaths per 1,000 women during the course
of their pregnancy or childbirth. The problem is compounded by the
fact that a large percentage of Afghans live in remote, mountainous
areas and have no access to health care. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.
chief envoy to Afghanistan, described the public health situation as
being "in a desperate state," on January 3.
U.S. government officials recognize the need to do more to mitigate
the public health crisis in Afghanistan. At a January 3 press
briefing, Alan J. Kreczko, the Assistant Secretary of State for
Population, Refugees and Migration, said the U.S. would be looking to
fund long-term programs for refugees, including those that provided,
"basic health care including reproductive health care and maternal
child health care."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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