Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Abduction of health workers deprives the displaced of health services

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KANDAHAR, 26 April 2007 (IRIN) - Up to 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Zhari Dasht camp in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar have been denied health services for almost one month after the abduction of five health workers in the province. Doctors have since refused to travel on the dangerous roads leading there.

"When our children were sick, we were taking them to the doctors and the doctors were examining them and then giving prescriptions. But after the doctors were abducted, there is nothing left; no facilities and no treatment," said Ghulam Mohammad, a displaced person originally from Maimana, a town in northern Afghanistan.

Five Afghan health workers, including a doctor and three nurses and their driver, working for the provincial health department were abducted in Kandahar's Zherai district on their way to the camp on 27 March this year, department officials in Kandahar told IRIN.

They said the abductors were Taliban fighters and that Taliban representatives have contacted a brother of one of the health workers seeking negotiations with senior government officials in Kandahar. They want Taliban prisoners to be released in return for the health workers.

In the meantime, Zhari Dasht IDPs have to make a one-hour car journey to Kandahar for medical assistance - but for many that is not an option.

"We are poor people and we can't afford to take our sick to Kandahar city. We don't have the money to pay for transportation," said Ghani, an IDP living in the camp.

Many of the Zhari Dasht IDPs have lived there for at least five years and are ethnic Pashtuns from the north of Afghanistan who fled drought, ethnic tension and land disputes there.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, lack of health services for camp residents will continue.

Security must be ensured

"If the security of our health workers is not ensured, then we cannot put more health workers at risk and we won't be able to send more doctors to the camp," said Dr Abdullah Fahim, the ministry spokesman in Kabul.

But with the summer heat arriving, health risks will rise, Fahim warned. "Diseases -including diarrhoea, hepatitis and cholera - could spread because of drinking polluted water, the great amount of garbage and dusty days," he said.

Dr Abdi Momin, medical officer with the World Health Organization (WHO), says they, too, are concerned.

"So far, thank God, there have not been any outbreaks of diseases. [But] we are concerned about outbreaks of seasonal diseases such as diarrhoea," Momin said.

He said WHO is talking to other UN agencies and NGOs to find a way to resume health services in the camp.

Meanwhile, officials are calling on the abductors to release the health workers.

"If those brothers who have abducted the doctors hear my voice, I ask that they release them because these people are doctors. They can be your doctors and our doctors - doctors serve all the people of a community," Haji M. Nabi Safi, head of the Department for Refugees and Repatriation in Kandahar, said. "These doctors did not have links to any political party."

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This report is also available as a radio story in Dari and Pashto on IRIN's Afghanistan Radio Page.

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