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WHO Pledges to Help Reconstruct Afghan Health System - 2001-12-29

The World Health Organization, WHO, is making plans to rehabilitate Afghanistan's health care system, which has been largely destroyed by decades of war. WHO officials recently met with Afghanistanąs newly-appointed public health minister, Sohila Sediq. She is one of two women to be appointed to Afghanistan's transitional government.

The World Health Organization and the Afghan health minister agree that so much needs to be done to rebuild the country's health system that it is difficult to know where to begin. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said the health minister appealed for greater help in providing assistance to women.

"Under the Taleban, the worst problem was the lack of women's access to health care and how one got health to women during the Taleban regime was always a big question," said Mr. Hartl said. "We did our absolute best to continue to get health care to women during the Taleban regime. And, obviously, now that is no longer a consideration of nearly the same magnitude."

Mr. Hartl stressed the appointment of a woman to the post of health minister in the transitional government shows how much the situation in Afghanistan has changed. He said during the meeting with WHO officials Dr. Sediq asked for assistance in training health care workers, especially female health workers. Mr. Hartl notes WHO is aware of the problem and already is doing something to redress it. "There are very few trained staff left in Afghanistan," he said. "And, the hospitals themselves suffer from a lack of medicine and a lack of equipment. So, these are primary concerns, all three of these areas, for WHO and we are already working on at least the first two of those, which is getting more medicines into the country and training health care staff to meet the needs of the population."

While long-range reconstruction plans are underway, Mr. Hartl says WHO's immediate concern is the plight of more than 1.5 million people living in camps for internally-displaced people. He says these homeless people live in tents in the freezing winter weather and lack basic hygiene and medical care.