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UNICEF Study Shows Improvements in Situation of Afghan Children - 2004-10-05

A new survey by the United Nations Children's Fund indicates some improvements have been made in the health and well-being of Afghan children since the overthrow of the Taleban regime. But UNICEF says Afghan children continue to be among the most disadvantaged in the world.

This is the first comprehensive study of the condition of Afghanistan's women and children since 1996. UNICEF and Afghanistan's Central Statistical Office surveyed nearly 21,000 households in 32 provinces.

UNICEF Spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says since the overthrow of the Taleban, primary school enrollment has increased rapidly. And, the main winners are girls. He says now 40 percent of girls go to school compared to 14 percent under the Taleban.

Another area of improvement, he says, has been in mass immunization campaigns for children.

"Basically, 80 to 90 percent of all children below 15 years old have managed to get immunizations against measles, the main killer of children worldwide and in Afghanistan, in particular. And, also against polio," said Mr. Personnaz. "So, two major achievements within two years is a great achievement in one of the poorest countries in the world."

In spite of these improvements, the study shows that Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries in the world in which to be a child. While the infant mortality rate has decreased, the study says it is still the highest in Asia, and one of the highest in the world.

It finds one in nine children born in Afghanistan probably will die before his or her first birthday, and one in six children will probably not survive until the age of five. The study notes acute respiratory infections and dairrheal disease remain major problems among Afghan children. Other problems include a national illiteracy rate of more than 70 percent and widespread lack of safe water and sanitation.

Mr. Personnaz notes progress has been made in medical care for women and girls. He says it was extremely difficult for them to have access to hospitals under the Taleban regime.

"They had to be accompanied by men or by their brothers or by their fathers or sometimes by their husbands which, of course, in certain areas, anything linked to maternity issues were a real problem," noted Mr. Personnaz. "They were also taken care of by doctors who were mostly men which also did not improve the whole situation. So, this has changed also dramatically, especially in major urban areas of the country, [although] not much in the rural areas."

The UNICEF report says now that some progress has been made on issues related to women and children in Afghanistan, a further immunization program is needed, along with more attention to maternal health services.