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Kabul Children's Hospital Urgently Needs Assistance

Afghanistan, a country devastated by war and civil conflict, is in urgent need of international assistance. Nowhere is that need greater than in the area of health care. It's the children of Afghanistan who suffer most from the lack of a health care infrastructure, as reporter Irris Makler discovered when she visited the Kabul children's hospital.

Five-year-old Shakril Jah never stops crying. The young boy is suffering from diarrhea and malnutrition. He is shockingly thin, the size of an 18-month-old baby in the west. He is so weak he can no longer walk.

Shakril Jah is just one of hundreds of children housed in the Kabul children's hospital, a run down building with broken windows and bullet pocked walls.

The hospital staff have not been paid for four months. The Taleban took the hospital's money and spent it on their fighters. The doctors and nurses say they do not have the medicine or equipment to keep children alive. And too many they say, are dying.

Shakril Jah's mother Zenab watches over him constantly. She says the child is starving because she has not been able to work since her husband died after stepping on a land mine soon after the Taleban seized power in 1996.

The Taleban banned nearly all women from holding jobs.

Zenab says she simply does not have enough money to feed her child. Shakril Jah has been in the hospital for more than a week now. But there is no sign that he is getting any better.

Dr. Mohammed Asaf who is treating him says he only has a 50 percent chance of surviving.

"You see the condition of this patient is very severe because this patient has very severe malnutrition," the doctor says. "And I also think maybe he has some serious medical problems, maybe TB, maybe septicemia."

The World Health Organization says there are too many children like Shakril Jah. The WHO says that 50 percent of the children in Afghanistan grow up stunted by malnutrition.

Recently things at Kabul children's hospital have become worse. In addition to the Taleban diverting funds to their fighters, much international aid was temporarily stopped after foreign workers for non-governmental organizations left Afghanistan following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. Sixty percent of all health care in Afghanistan is funded by NGOs.

Dr. Mustafa Asmari is the hospital's director and its chief surgeon. He says many more children have died in the hospital in the past few months as a result of the latest crisis in Afghanistan.

"We had very high mortality rate among the children in the hospital," Dr. Asmari says.

"Can you tell me how many children died, would you say?" asks reporter Irris Makler.

"The exact number I don't remember but I can say that the mortality rate was about 10 to 15 percent, really high," the doctor answers.

Under these terrible conditions the hospital staff have also had to treat 40 children who were injured in the U.S. air strikes on Kabul. Seven children died in the raids. U.S. officials say they regret any civilian casualties, which occurred as a result of the air strikes and that the strikes were targeted against Taleban military facilities or terrorist sites.

Ten year old Mohammed Salum lost his right leg and his other leg was badly injured when a wall fell on him as he slept during an air strike on October 12. He has been in Kabul children's hospital ever since.

The young boy says he feels miserable because he will never be able to run and play with his friends again.

Mohammed Salum's mother Lailamah sits by his bed every day. As she pulls back the covers to show her son's injuries she has no anger over what has happened.

Lailamah says she is very sad that her boy is so badly injured and will be handicapped. But she also says, that the terrible pressure of life under the Taleban is now gone.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently pledged that the Bush administration and the international community would help to rebuild Afghanistan's shattered infrastructure. For the sick and injured children at the Kabul children's hospital, that promise can not come too soon. As their doctors remind every visitor, too many of the children are dying.