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Greater efforts needed to protect health of Afghans, says senior UN official

26 April 2010 – A senior United Nations official today called for greater efforts to assist Afghans, who remain extremely vulnerable to a wide range of health challenges associated with natural disasters, conflict and the lack of coverage of health services.

“Much has been achieved in recent years to expand health care in many parts of the country, but we still see today that many Afghans remain extremely vulnerable to a wide range of humanitarian emergencies, and more needs to be done to protect them,” Dr. Eric Laroche, the Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises of the World Health Organization (WHO), told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

Dr. Laroche, a former UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative to Afghanistan, noted that millions of Afghans are vulnerable to a wide range of acute and complex emergencies, including natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, and conflict, particularly in parts of the south.

He highlighted the need to expand health services, including more doctors, nurses, midwives and health facilities, in more parts of the country.

“WHO wants to help all people who are committed to alleviating humanitarian suffering in Afghanistan,” said Dr. Laroche, who is currently on a visit to the country.

“This can be done by better preparing for emergencies, increasing access to communities isolated by harsh terrain, natural disasters and conflict, and expanding the coverage of health services in the country.”

Among the ways that WHO is assisting the Afghan people is by working closely with authorities in areas such as disease surveillance and control of vaccine-preventable deaths, training health workers and providing technical guidance on health issues. It also co-chairs the Health Cluster – a grouping of international and local humanitarian bodies – which provides emergency health services for 500,000 people.

While in Afghanistan, Dr. Laroche visited the capital of Samangan province, part of which was struck by a recent earthquake, for talks with local authorities on the response to the emergency and to offer support.

He is also meeting with members of national and international humanitarian organizations working in the country.

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