Child deaths spark pneumonia fear in Afghanistan
Source: Medical Emergency Relief International
February 5, 2008
Merlin staff in Afghanistan are battling to get help to a snow-bound valley where at least seven children have died from pneumonia in the past week.
Heavy snow fall since January has cut off several villages in Badakshan province, leaving 10,000 people with dwindling food and fuel supplies and at high risk from respiratory infections.
A team of doctors from Merlin’s base in Fayzabad reached the village of Shahre Buzarg over the weekend and treated more than 600 patients. “We had to trek for 10 hours to reach the village, at times through snow which was six feet deep,” explained Dr Khalil Nayel who led the team. “We were soon overwhelmed by people seeking help; some were literally lying in the snow when we treated them. We diagnosed 270 cases of pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections and treated three pregnant women suffering from severe bleeding.”
Pneumonia: the leading killer of children
Pneumonia kills more children in the developing world than any other disease. Its symptoms, which include very high temperatures and blocked lungs, can lead to death within days. Although it can be treated with antibiotics, recovery is much more problematic if the patient remains in the cold or in poorly ventilated, smokey rooms. “Many families in the village had almost run out of wood to heat their homes or cook the small amount of food they had stored. ” added Dr Khalil Nayel.
“Although our team has been able to stabilize the most serious cases in Shahre Buzarg, the situation for thousands of people there remains precarious,” said Sophia Craig, Merlin’s Country Director in Afghanistan. “We are mobilizing another team in the next few days to get more staff and medicines into the valley. We are also working very closely with the Ministry of Public Health to ensure we minimise the risk of an outbreak.”
Health facilities are scarce in rural Afghanistan and patients often have to travel long distances to seek help. There are only two volunteer health workers in Shahre Buzarg and the nearest health centre is 28 miles away over rough mountain roads. Most health facilities in the district are equipped and managed by Merlin as part of an programme funded by USAID. Rates of child mortality in Afghanistan have improved in recent years, but one in five children still die before reaching their fifth birthday. “Cold is a major killer during the Afghan winter and is one reason why a quarter of a million young children die here each year,” added Sophia.