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WHO Trying to Prevent Disease Outbreaks in Afghanistan - 2001-11-09


The World Health Organization says it is working to block the spread of communicable diseases in Afghanistan in the coming winter.

WHO says a main focus of its health strategy will be to prevent the outbreak of disease in crowded camps of displaced people. Of major concern are diseases such as measles, pneumonia, and typhoid.

Mohamed Jama is WHO's regional coordinator for the Afghanistan crisis. "There is a major humanitarian crisis in the making, and this you have been hearing for a long time. But, in the health sector, what are our concerns? As winter sets in, we are worried about communicable diseases, particularly measles. We are worried about water shortages. We are worried about malnutrition, and also the inadequacy of the health services - displacement inside Afghanistan," he said.

Dr. Jama said the WHO has several months worth of medicines and medical supplies in Afghanistan, and 177 local health workers at eight offices across the country provide support to the local health officials and private aid agencies.

WHO statistics show one-half of all children in Afghanistan are malnourished, and one in four children dies before the age of five. The average life expectancy of an Afghan is 46 years. Every year, WHO says, more than 16,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency says the government of Pakistan has agreed to allow recently arrived Afghan refugees to settle in newly established camps.

Agency spokesman Ron Redmond has said the move could begin within the next day or two. "A total of 11 new sites are ready in Pakistan, and can be opened for use. The first group to be re-located is expected to be the nearly 3,000 vulnerable Afghans who have been allowed to cross into Pakistan at the Chaman border crossing in southern Baluchistan province. These people are primarily women, children, the elderly, and sick and wounded and other vulnerable people," he said.

Mr. Redmond said these people have been staying in temporary quarters near the border at Chaman. He said once they leave, other vulnerable Afghans seeking protection and assistance can move in.

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