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AFGHANISTAN: Severe winter causes more pneumonia child deaths


HERAT, 6 March 2007 (IRIN) - Doctors in Afghanistan say that a particularly cold winter this year has increased the number of children dying of pneumonia. Thousands of children contract the respiratory illness every winter in Afghanistan, where difficult living conditions and inadequate medical care can make it a fatal illness.



A child suffering from pneumonia cries out for her mother
at Jalalabad central hospital, Afghanistan, 1 March 2007.
© Ghulam Rasool Hasas/IRIN

In February, at least 50 children reportedly died of pneumonia at Herat provincial hospital, while in the eastern province of Nangarhar, there were 28 deaths.

Despite measures such as an early warning system and attempts at civic education and improving facilities, doctors at both hospitals said that child mortality from pneumonia increased this year because of the cold weather and the increased snow it brought.

Zia Gul’s four-day-old daughter Parastu contracted pneumonia in the cold, windy room of their house in the Koshko Robatsangi district in Herat province.

“We are very poor people and cannot afford enough wood for the stove,” Gul said. “My room also does not have proper windows and doors, allowing the cold wind to come in. I tried keeping her warm with two or three blankets but she fell sick.”

To get her to the nearest medical facility, Parastu’s family had to walk in snow to the nearest village with cars. In heavy snow, the vehicle they found took two hours to reach the nearest clinic, where doctors said the baby’s condition was serious and told the parents to take her to Herat. Upon arriving in the provincial capital, they learnt Parastu had a severe form of pneumonia.

Delays in getting medical care often cause deaths. Dr Abdul Qayoum, head of the paediatric ward in the Herat provincial hospital, said Afghanistan’s winter prompted respiratory diseases such as influenza, severe pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The hospital sees the deaths of 12 to 15 children due to pneumonia every week, Qayoum said, adding that most of the children were from rural areas. With the onset of pneumonia symptoms, Qayoum said parents often took their children to mullahs (religious teachers) for prayers to be read over them. They would only go to hospitals if the child’s condition deteriorated, by which stage treatment can be difficult.

Tawoos, a woman from Ghorian district, brought her six-month-old son to Herat hospital after four mullahs could not cure him. The family gave a calf to the first mullah, a prayer rug to the second and money to two others. Now, Tawoos sits by her son Saddeq in a hospital where she has seen three mothers lose their children.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia accounts for 20 percent of all deaths of children under five in developing countries. In Afghanistan, statistics are hard to compile because even the larger regional hospitals have only just started to record admissions and deaths.

The WHO says basic hospital equipment such as oxygen concentrators, suction machines, nebulizers and oxygen masks are in short supply in the war-ravaged country.

“It is for the Ministry of Public Health to take a decision on this,” Qayoum said. “The people in the rural areas need their doctors and nurses to be trained in diagnosis and they need better healthcare facilities.”



The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2007

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