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Devastated Afghan Health System Under Repair - 2002-05-16

Officials responsible for rebuilding Afghanistan's health system say they have a long way to go before the country will be able to provide adequate health care for its citizens.

The World Health Organization's coordinator for Afghanistan, Abdi Jama, says the country has made a good, if not basic, start to attend to the health care needs of the Afghan people.

But he says that Afghanistan has only seen some of the $129 million pledged by donors for its health care system. Dr. Jama says sustained financial support over many years will be required to successfully rebuild Afghanistan's health network - devastated by two decades of war.

"Work has started. Children are being immunized. Women are being immunized. Disease control programs are under way," he explained. "But clearly this is not sufficient. Major rehabilitation and reconstruction of the health infrastructure have not yet started. And this will require additional funding and sustained funding. One of the worries, actually, is that in the next few months, you know, when the cameras go and leave Afghanistan, then resources may not be forthcoming."

The Afghan minister of health, Sohaila Saddiq, says her ministry is committed to ensuring that medical treatment is available to all Afghans on an equal basis, regardless of ethnic identity or sex.

Dr. Saddiq says there are many health concerns demanding attention.

"In order to improve people's health and stop death among all and also to improve the situation of contagious diseases, we have to start with the nutrition, especially the improvement of nutrition for children, infants and mothers," she noted. "Respiratory diseases must be addressed, and improvements must be made here. Also, the important thing is the psychological problems of the people, psychological results from war, having lost their dear ones, family members."

Officials say malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhea and respiratory diseases rank among the most prevalent causes of Afghan deaths today.