KABUL, 9 June (IRIN) - As summer temperatures rise across Afghanistan, the country's health officials and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) warned of an increasing risk of diarrhoeal disease in major cities.
Diarrhoea is a leading cause of death among children in Afghanistan, accounting for more than 50,000 deaths annually amongst those under the age of five and contributing to one of the world's worst child mortality rates.
"So far we have had two occasions of rising diarrhoea diseases among children. One was in late May and recently we had 600 cases in different hospitals of the country," doctor Abdullah Fahim, a senior advisor to the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), told IRIN in the capital, Kabul, on Thursday.
Around 700 children under the age of five die every day in Afghanistan due to preventable diseases and 70 Afghan mothers die every day through complications in pregnancy and childbirth, Fahim added.
He said lack of resources and trained medical personnel, along with low levels of awareness and cultural factors, were the main reasons for the alarming figures in a country trying to recover from nearly three decades of conflict.
According to UNICEF, a new information and education campaign is expected to be launched by MOPH next week to address the issue of poor hygiene practices, one of the major causes of transmission of diarrhoeal disease.
With 70 percent of Afghanistan's urban populations not having access to adequate sanitation, UNICEF said, combined with high summer temperatures and dense population, city dwellers are at particular risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease at this time of year. Children are especially vulnerable, as dehydration caused by diarrhoeal disease can be fatal.
"The most frightening thing is that it is a preventable disease. Very simple household hygiene practices can actually prevent children from contracting diarrhoeal disease and prevent the risk of severe dehydration and ultimately death amongst children," Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN.
Carwardine said the new campaign, which involved radio advertising and face-to-face education, undertaken in schools and through home visits, would focus on the core message that "a healthy family prevents diarrhoea".
"An estimated 500,000 people living in 18 district of Kabul will be targeted by the campaign in its first phase," the UNICEF official said, adding that the cities of Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif would be covered by similar campaigns in the near future.
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