Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Whooping cough outbreak under control

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ISLAMABAD, 21 January (IRIN) - Following emergency efforts by aid agencies and the Afghan government, a whooping cough outbreak that threatened the lives of some 40,000 children in two remote districts of Afghanistan's northeastern province of Badakhshan. The province borders Tajikistan.
"Our intervention was quite successful in containing the epidemic and preventing any complication that might occur," Yon Fleerackers, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organisation (WHO), told IRIN from the Khvahan District of Badakhshan on Tuesday. The outbreak had been reported in the region earlier this month, prompting aid agencies to deploy there.

Seventy-eight local volunteers, 15 medical professionals from WHO and health workers from the Afghan government, distributed a two-week course of erythromycin to an estimated 40,000 children under the age of 15 in 189 villages of Kufab, Shekay, Nusay, Maymey and Jamarj subdistricts of Darvaz and Khvahan districts.

Although WHO confirmed 17 deaths from an earlier outbreak in November, Fleerackers maintained that the mortality rates might be reasonably lower than the estimated 15 percent. "The first reports from a limited number of villages say that it is probably lower. It could be less than 10 percent," he said, adding that he saw only one death in 342 cases in Maymey, which was well under one percent mortality. "We will have the full picture in a few weeks' time," he said.

As some of the teams walked for kilometres to reach the remote mountain villages, logistics remained a daunting challenge. "This is the most difficult place in Afghanistan in terms of getting supplies," Fleerackers said, adding that supplies were either airlifted by helicopter or brought on horses and donkeys after crossing the Omu river from neighbouring Tajikistan.

While making available the only access to some remote mountainous communities in Badakhshan, Tajikistan is providing the emergency assistance efforts with the key logistical support. The World Food Programme, the UN Joint Logistics Centre for Afghanistan and the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are also extending assistance by providing air and road transport for supplies and team members. The Afghan military and the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) have also been providing logistical support.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly communicable disease of the throat and is caused by a bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis. At its onset, the disease causes mild problems, which then tend to progress to severe coughing lasting up to 10 weeks.

The disease particularly threatens infants under the age of six months. Before the worldwide introduction of the pertussis vaccine, it was of considerable public health concern in developed as well as developing countries.

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