As temperatures rise, so does threat of diarrhoeal disease in Afghan cities

News and Press Release
Originally published
Kabul, 9 June 2005 - As temperatures begin to rise across Afghanistan, the country's Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF are warning of increased risks from diarrhoeal disease - especially in the country's major cities. Diarrhoeal disease is believed to be a leading cause of death amongst children in Afghanistan, responsible for more than 50,000 deaths amongst children under the age of five every year and contributing to one of the world's worst child mortality rates.

A new information and education campaign will be launched by the Ministry of Public Health this Sunday, 12 June, addressing one of the major causes of transmission of diarrhoeal disease - poor hand washing and hygiene practices. Health experts believe that improved hand wishing at critical times - such as before preparing food, before and after eating, and after using the latrine - can itself significantly reduce the rate of infection. With 70 per cent of Afghanistan's urban populations not having access to adequate sanitation, 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 prove fatal.

The new campaign will focus on the core message "A healthy family prevents diarrhoea", which will be communicated through a series of radio spots to be broadcast on Radio Afghanistan from Saturday, and a programme of face-to-face education undertaken in schools and through home visits. An estimated 500,000 people living in 18 districts of Kabul will be targeted by the campaign in its first phase. Over the coming weeks and months cities such as Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif will be covered by similar campaigns.

UNICEF's water and sanitation officer Zahida Stanekzai said today "The summer months are especially dangerous for children in terms of diarrhoeal disease. The best solution is through prevention, and we hope this campaign will bring home the key messages that proper hand washing, use of safe drinking water and the safe disposal of human waste will save lives."

"Families can protect themselves from the risk of diarrhoeal disease very simply; make hand washing and household hygiene a central part of your daily routine, and be proud of your healthy family this summer," she urged.

This year's campaign is being supported by UNICEF, WHO, USAID and the communication agency PSI. The official campaign launch will be held on Sunday 12 June in the library of the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul, starting at 9.30 a.m.