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Arzow Saadat, slight and covered in a black shalwar kameze and shawl, is a woman with a mission.
As a health education supervisor in Herat, western Afghanistan, her job is to make sure that the four female educators in her charge understand everything there is to know about health and hygiene and that they pass their knowledge on to some 2,000 people spread across the region. Her work has the potential to prevent hundreds of children from contracting deadly waterborne diseases that kill thousands of children in Afghanistan every year.
For every 1,000 children born in Afghanistan, nearly 60 die from diarrhoeal disease before the age of five, in large part because the vast majority of the population does not have access to clean water and lacks basic knowledge about hygiene.
Approximately 65 per cent of the urban and 81 per cent of the rural population do not have access to safe water. An even greater percentage – 77 per cent of the urban and 92 per cent of the rural population – lack access to sanitation facilities. As a result, Afghanistan is rife with cases of diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and malaria.
Mrs. Saadat is working to change these horrific statistics as part of a UNICEF-supported programme of the Afghan Ministry of Health to train women to educate the population about the importance of hygiene and clean water in preventing disease.
In much of Afghanistan, particularly rural areas, women still do not have the opportunity to leave their homes to take part in public meetings and radio and television do not reach large parts of the population. As a result, they don’t have much access to outside information. Thus, the Ministry of Health must send educators from house-to-house to teach families the importance of taking water from a safe source, boiling it before drinking and washing their hands before preparing food.
Already, Mrs. Saadat has seen signs of improvement. For example, a year ago, the 350,000 people sheltering at the Maslakh Camp for internally displaced people, were suffering from soaring rates of waterborne diseases. The camp has seen a steady decline in disease and more visibly healthy children as a result of the education campaign.
In early April, Mrs. Saadat and 30 other health educators came to Kabul to expand their knowledge and techniques at a week-long workshop sponsored by the Afghan Ministries of Health and Rural Rehabilitation and Development and supported by UNICEF.
At the workshop, the health educators learned more about water-related illnesses and how best to teach people to avoid them.
“This week I have learned a lot more about diarrhoeal disease through the technical seminars,” said Saadat. “This knowledge can now be passed on to my local team of health educators and we can make even more steps towards reducing the number of deaths we see from diarrhoea.”