Annual drive to prevent diarrhoeal deaths gets underway in Afghanistan

Kabul 19 June 2006 – In an effort to control outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease during the summer, Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health will launch its annual public awareness campaign this week, backed by UNICEF. The campaign aims to safeguard the health and hygiene of urban households in a country where nearly a quarter of deaths amongst children under the age of five are the result of diarrhoeal disease.
The first phase of the campaign will begin in Kabul on Saturday 24th June, targeting 850,000 people, before moving to Jalalabad, Mazar and Ghazni in following weeks. Each phase of the campaign lasts for 20 days, and will involve hundreds of community health workers, teachers and religious leaders taking key health and hygiene messages directly to households, in addition to mass media information announcements. In total, the campaign aims to reach nearly 2 million people in the four target areas.

The campaign messages focus on the importance of hand washing before preparing and eating food and after using latrines, the benefits of breastfeeding infants to reduce the risk of diarrhoeal disease, and the importance of quickly responding to cases of diarrhoea with the provision of fluids to sufferers. The campaign will also inform households about safe use of water and personal hygiene issues to reduce risks from diarrhoeal disease.

The summer months in Afghanistan create the highest risk of diarrhoeal disease outbreaks, especially in urban areas where availability of clean water becomes limited and households often resort to using contaminated ground water. High temperatures and large populations in such urban environments also increase the dangers of bacteria spreading quickly.

Annually, UNICEF estimates that some 50,000 children under the age of five die every year in Afghanistan as a result of diarrhoeal disease. With availability of water and sanitation severely limited in many parts of the country, preventative health measures such as effective hand washing and proper treatment of drinking water are critical to controlling diarrhoea outbreaks.

Mrs. Zahida Stanekzai, UNICEF Afghanistan's project officer responsible for hygiene promotion, said today "Too many children die every year from preventable diarrhoeal disease. By following the simple steps outlined in the campaign – washing hands at critical times, breastfeeding infants, responding to cases of diarrhoea with the provision of extra fluids to sufferers, boiling or purifying drinking water, and practising good personal hygiene, families can better protect themselves against this killer disease."

"While the risks from diarrhoeal disease are high at this time of year, its prevention is relatively simple," Mrs. Stanekzai added. "We hope that this campaign will ensure that as many families as possible are fully aware of how they can safeguard themselves and their children."

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