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Saving Lives In Afghanistan

Saving Lives In Afghanistan
Saving Lives In Afghanistan

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In 2002, after the collapse of the Taliban regime, only 9 percent of Afghans had access to basic health services; 25 percent of children died before age 5; 42 percent of child deaths were due to preventable causes; and the country had only 460 low-functioning health facilities. That's because the health system in this country of over 23 million people was destroyed by conflict. Fleeing the war zone, most medical professionals left, and medical training programs ceased to operate.

It is therefore not surprising that one of the key elements in the NATO plan of building a stable, modern and functioning Afghanistan was re-building the health care system. And although the health statistics for Afghanistan are still some of the worst in the world, over a billion dollars' worth of international aid has resulted in marked improvements. Infant mortality is down 21 percent, and treatment for tuberculosis, a serious cause of death in Afghanistan, now reaches 97 percent of patients, up from 15 percent just 7 years ago.

The United States Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and State, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, are all heavily involved in the reconstruction and expansion of Afghanistan's health care sector. USAID alone has spent 535 million dollars on Afghan health programs. It has built over 700 new health clinics and improved access to basic health services for more than 8.5 million people in 13 provinces, with about 30 thousand people receiving care every day through clinics and direct outreach workers. One of the most significant successes is the immunization against polio of 95 percent of Afghan children.

Still, many challenges lie ahead. There are critical staff shortages, especially of female health care workers. Women's health care especially is a tough nut to crack, as they need a male relative's permission to see a health care worker, and then only a female one. Maternal mortality is very high, and of the 15 thousand annual deaths from tuberculosis, 12 to 13 thousand are women.

The overhaul of Afghanistan's health care system has been a positive development in our efforts in Afghanistan, but it remains a continuing effort.