An International Federation primary health care programme in collaboration with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) is providing vital medical care for a population devastated by more than two decades of war. Federation statistics are frightening. The country's life expectancy is just 45 years, infant mortality at 182 per 1000 while 170 women out of 1000 die in childbirth. The programme, aimed at helping the most vulnerable of Afghanistan's already impoverished people, reached nearly 9% of the total estimated population of 21.2 million people in 1999. The establishment of 47 clinics in 31 provinces across the country means the most needy are provided with essential basic health care and health education. The Red Crescent clinics, supported by the Federation, are also the only places where women are employed in a social service capacity. The Federation is also encouraging more women to be volunteer traditional birth attendants in a move to reduce pregnancy-related deaths. The clinics provide an out-patient service and with water borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera and diarrhoea rampant, the medical staff have a heavy work load. Poverty and war have also led to malnutrition and anaemia, as well as outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Although the Red Crescent programmes are making an impact, long term success depends on peace and stability within the country and long term donor commitment.
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