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UNICEF Launches Health Radio Program in Afghanistan - 2002-09-03

The U.N. children's agency and the World Health Organization are launching a radio program in Afghanistan that will offer families guidelines on hygiene and how to prevent illness. The programs are aimed primarily at women and are being broadcast by Afghan women journalists.

Officials at the World Health Organization and UNICEF say the programs, which will be broadcast twice a week, will offer basic information that they believe will help save thousands of lives. WHO spokeswoman Loretta Hieber Girardet says health information is in short supply in Afghanistan.

"It is a vicious cycle there. People do not know enough to save their own lives," she said. "They do not know enough to save their children's lives and it is very difficult to reach them other than using forms of mass media now. We are lucky because now the media scene is changing and we have opportunities to do that."

Afghanistan has one of the world's worst health records. Twenty five percent of all Afghan children under the age of five die from preventable diseases, chiefly diarrhea and respiratory infections. Every half-hour, an Afghan woman dies in childbirth. In some places, like western Ghor province, there is only one doctor to serve a half a million people.

WHO spokeswoman Hieber Girardet says it is important to teach Afghan women, particularly those in the isolated countryside, about what they can do to prevent disease, because little money is coming from international donors to help improve the health situation in Afghanistan.

"We have a good opportunity to start making some sort of difference even if we have not got money right now to build the hospitals and put the doctors in place. We can start making sure that they get information about their reproductive health, about family planning, about taking care of their children."

The WHO spokeswoman says radio is particularly important in Afghanistan. Seventy percent of the people there use it as their main means of communication.

WHO and UNICEF are jointly funding the quarter of a million dollar radio project. Ms. Hieber Girardet says six Afghan women journalists began training earlier this week and broadcasts are expected to begin mid-October.