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Afghan Capital Braces for Possible Cholera Epidemic

Afghan girl heads home after loading water tanks on her donkey at a village on the outskirts of Kabul (File photo - July 12, 2003)
Health experts say the Afghan capital, Kabul, faces a possible cholera epidemic. Afghan officials confirmed 30 cases, but downplayed fears that thousands more may infected.

The ministry of health says the media were exaggerating the extent of the cholera outbreak. Some reports have claimed there are more than 2,000 cases of cholera in the capital.

But the government insists only 500 people have been hospitalized and only 30 cases of cholera have been identified.

But officials acknowledge there has been a sharp rise in acute diarrhea cases, which is a leading symptom of cholera.

Kabul's four major hospitals have reportedly registered more than 2,000 cases of severe diarrhea.

A UNICEF spokesman in Kabul, Edward Carwardine, says that at the very least, there is no doubt the conditions that cause cholera are spreading.

"Our concern is that, if you do see increasing cases of diarrhea, cholera may not be far behind. I would not be surprised if we do hear of more cases of cholera in the coming days," he said.

He says one particular concern is the number of families in Kabul using polluted water.

Cholera typically spreads through contaminated water and according to the U.N. almost a quarter of Kabul's four-million residents do not have access to clean water.

Nevertheless, Mr. Carwardine says the government is addressing those problems and reports of an epidemic are still premature.

"I think it is too early to say, at this stage, that we are facing an epidemic. The key thing is that we try and stop the number of cases we've seen from increasing any further," added Mr. Carwardine.

He says local health workers have already started disinfecting water wells throughout the city and the ministry of health says it is expanding a recently launched campaign to improve local hygiene.