From crisis to care: UNICEF’s swift response saves lives in Afghanistan
Hotter weather in Afghanistan means more cases of acute watery diarrhoea, but UNICEF prepares health facilities to respond with treatment kits and oral rehydration points.
327 districts out of 421 nationwide have reported outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea. Half of the reported cases are children under five years old.
Ten-month-old Adela flashes a wide smile as a doctor examines her in the inpatient department at the Wardak provincial hospital in central Afghanistan. Adela's mother, Basmina, tries to keep a notebook away from her, but Adela insists on playing with it.
Just days ago, Basmina feared she would lose her daughter to acute watery diarrhea.
"For three days, Adela was constantly vomiting and experiencing diarrhoea," she recalls. "We visited a private clinic and received a prescription, but we couldn't afford to pay for it. Her condition worsened, and I thought she wouldn't make it."
"Adela is recovering fast. I am confident we can discharge her tomorrow."
Struggling to afford even basic meals, the family had no money to pay for a taxi to reach the nearest hospital. In sweltering heat, Basmina and her husband embarked on a challenging two-hour journey on foot to the Wardak Provincial Hospital. Once they arrived, doctors promptly diagnosed Adela with acute dehydration caused by acute watery diarrhoea. She was transferred to the inpatient department in the paediatric ward for treatment.
“When we received Adela, she was frail and pale, even struggling to keep her eyes open. We gave her intravenous therapy. I am relieved we brought back her smile. She is recovering fast, and I am confident we can discharge her tomorrow,” says Dr. Leila Anwari, a paediatrician at the Wardak Provincial Hospital.
Amidst high temperatures and water shortages, Afghanistan is grappling with multiple disease outbreaks, including malaria, measles, and acute watery diarrhea. In the last few months, there has been a significant surge in cases of acute watery diarrhea across the country, with half of the reported cases in children under five. Dr. Leila attributes the spike in cases to seasonal factors and complications arising from malnutrition and lack of resilience.
"As more Afghans slide deeper into poverty, the queues outside healthcare facilities grow. Mothers come to our hospital, bringing malnourished children battling illnesses. Every week, I see three to four children admitted to the severe acute malnutrition treatment ward," says Dr. Leila.
UNICEF and partners are spearheading a combined prevention and emergency response to acute watery diarrhoea outbreaks, integrating health; community engagement; and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities in health facilities and in communities.
In areas hit by outbreaks, UNICEF is delivering aquatabs and hygiene kits, and chlorinating water in households and in communities. To raise awareness and promote good hygiene practices, UNICEF is carrying out campaigns through community health workers and mass media channels. These campaigns reached nearly 1 million people with messaging on disease outbreaks during the month of June.
To cope with the rising number of cases since March this year, UNICEF, with support from the World Bank and the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, prepositioned 1,281 acute watery diarrhea kits sufficient to treat over 135,000 patients. UNICEF also established 289 acute watery diarrhoea treatment units and 2,255 oral rehydration points in hospitals nationwide. This network of treatment facilities ensures prompt medical attention for those affected.
Across Afghanistan, in partnership with the World Bank, UNICEF plays a critical role in supporting the operational costs of around 2,400 health facilities and by covering the salaries of around 27,000 health workers, including that of Dr. Leila and her colleagues.
As a frontline health worker, Dr. Leila plays a critical role in delivering healthcare services in Afghanistan. The presence of female health workers like her is especially important for those who may not have access to care otherwise, such as children, women and the elderly. This year, with UNICEF assistance to health workers like Dr. Leila, nearly 20 million children and their families have received health and nutrition services.
"We need more qualified female doctors to handle the influx of patients during disease outbreaks," says Dr. Leila. "But I am happy to serve my patients, especially children."