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May 12, 10

NEWS / UN envoy concerned over mysterious illnesses of girls in Afghan schools

12 May 2010 – The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan today sounded the alarm over the illnesses of girls attending schools in parts of the country, allegedly due to chemical contaminants.

According to media reports, dozens of girls have been hospitalized after suspected gas poisoning.

“Thankfully I understand the children have recovered relatively quickly from their symptoms,” Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, said in a statement about the incidents in the capital, Kabul, as well as Kunduz in the north and Daikundi in central Afghanistan.

Blood samples have been sent to be tested outside of the country, since there are no facilities in Afghanistan which can thoroughly test them.

“At this point the investigations have not revealed any conclusion as to the nature of source of these incidents of illnesses,” Mr. de Mistura pointed out.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have been helping Afghanistan’s public health and education ministries and others look into these reports, treat sick children and seek ways to prevent security breaches in the country’s schools.

WHO is assisting the Ministry of Health with its investigations by providing technical guidance and information, and is also consulting with technical experts on conducting environmental analyses and on testing blood samples.

For its part, UNICEF is providing medication and actively pursuing measures to ensure school safety with the Ministry of Education.

“As the senior UN official in Afghanistan, I have asked all relevant UN entities to remain vigilant in the protection of schools and of all children’s right to education,” Mr. de Mistura, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said.

A new report released earlier this year by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found that the number of attacks against schools in Afghanistan almost tripled from 242 to 670 from 2007 to 2008.

With politically and ideologically motivated attacks against teachers, students and schools on the rise, the publication called for greater community involvement to reduce such incidents.




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