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August 18, 10

NEWS / Afghanistan: UN health agency calls for stepped-up access to those in need

18 August 2010 – On the eve of World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations health agency and its partners in Afghanistan are appealing for greater access by and to those most in need of medical assistance.

“We, the health community, are helping people where we can reach them, which also means that if we can’t reach the people, we can’t help them,” said Peter Graaf, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan.

“Despite challenges of widespread insecurity, health workers have taken an oath on the holy Koran and risk their own lives to provide health care to every man, woman and child in Afghanistan.”

At the outset of a crisis, access to and restoration of health services is vital to prevent avoidable deaths and illnesses. WHO said the first few days and weeks after a disaster hits are most critical in preventing the outbreak of diseases, typically triggered by the collapse of the local water supply and polluted water sources.

Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises, with infants, children under the age of five and mothers more at risk of dying than almost anywhere else in the world.

WHO said there is a clear link between the intensification of the conflict in the country and the worsening health situation, with limited accessibility to basic health care – especially for women and children – leading to a rise in easily preventable diseases. This is also hindering efforts to eradicate polio and holds qualified staff, especially women, back from working in more remote and rural parts of Afghanistan.

At present, more than 6 million people in Afghanistan – mostly women – need relief assistance for healthcare services. Some two thirds of these people, comprising 15 per cent of the country’s total population, do not even have access to basic health services.

In a related development, WHO has donated $20,000 worth of ventilators, suction machines and other emergency equipment to the intensive care unit of one of Afghanistan’s largest hospitals.

Hundreds of people visit the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar daily, according to Qayom Pokhla, Director of the city’s Ministry of Public Health.

“Every day there is a security incident, either in Kandahar or in other parts of the region, and after receiving the equipment, we will be able to reach our requirements more efficiently than before,” he said.

The hospital is supported by the non-governmental organization (NGO) International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and is the only medical centre in southern Afghanistan where complicated surgeries can be performed.




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