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Two years of progress for Afghan women and children

UNICEF highlights successes but urges more be done

KABUL, 20 November 2003, – Two years since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, UNICEF this week highlights some of the progress that has been made for the country’s women and children since the start of the reconstruction process.

Emphasising the prominent role of the Transitional Government, national NGOs and the Afghan people, UNICEF has applauded its partners for the unparalleled progress seen in areas such as health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and the protection of children’s rights.

UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, Dr. Sharad Sapra, said today “In the last two years a number of important steps have been made in advancing the welfare of Afghanistan’s children and women. In the area of health, we have seen 16 million children immunized against measles, some 6 million children immunized against polio and more than 700,000 women have received life-saving tetanus vaccinations. The status of mothers’ health has improved, with the opening of new centres of excellence in maternal health in Kabul and Jalalabad, the refurbishment of provincial obstetric care facilities in every province, and with the training of 18 teams of obstetricians and midwives across the country. Two salt iodation plants have opened this year alone, which will greatly reduce the prevalence of  mental and physical stunting and goitre, while 5 million children have benefited from Vitamin A supplementation in both 2002 and 2003.”

In the area of education, Sapra pointed to huge increases in the number of children enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools. “Demand for learning has exceeded all expectation; some 4 million children are now attending classes in every community in the country – that’s more than ever before in Afghanistan’s history.  1.2 million of those students – one-third – are girls, and already in just two years we have seen the boy:girl ratio in education return to pre-Taliban levels. That means that a seven year education deficit has been wiped out in just 24 months. More women teachers are returning to the classrooms, and we have seen significant improvements in the quality of education, with 50,000 teachers being trained this year alone in new methodologies and key progress made in the area of curriculum development. By next year, we expect to see a fully updated, student-friendly curriculum in place at primary level.”

Education has also provided opportunities to promote health and child protection measures; over the last two years, some 2 million school children have participated in hygiene promotion sessions integrated into the national curriculum, while water and sanitation facilities have been constructed in more than 400 schools, with work on-going in a further 1,500 schools. 25,000 teachers have been trained in mine risk education in an attempt to reduce the alarming statistic of some 50 children being killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance every month.

The past two years have also seen a number of new developments. In 2003, the first ever birth registration programme was launched in Afghanistan, reaching 775,000 children under the age of one in just six months. The campaign is unique in that it utilises the services of polio vaccinators, combining the birth registration effort with Afghanistan’s National Polio Immunization Days held throughout the year. Since May, vaccination teams have registered 97% of all children in the target age group, reaching every single household in the country.

In support of the national disarmament process, UNICEF has supported a special programme to assist war-affected young people, including former child soldiers, to return to mainstream life. 4,000 children are benefiting from vocational training and literacy classes, in a programme that is run and managed by local communities themselves.

Sapra also pointed to the important progress made in the area of national capacity within the Transitional Government. “UNICEF has always seen its role in Afghanistan as being a key partner of Government,” he explained. “The support we offer Government, at central, provincial and district level, is designed to empower the people of Afghanistan to design and manage their own services and programmes for children and women. In every sector, we have been proud to provide practical, tangible assistance in areas such as training, expert advice on policy development, as well as physical improvements to Ministry offices and health and education infrastructure – including a new education logistics centre and Afghanistan’s first national cold store for vaccines.”

Commenting on the challenges still ahead, the UNICEF Representative called for continued international assistance to Afghanistan. “Afghanistan is at a crucial stage of the reconstruction process,” he said. “The progress made so far for children and women has reached out to every household. The programmes for women and children are an outstanding example of how reconstruction helps to rebuild not just local communities but a nation as a whole. The foundations are certainly in place but we have to continue building. We need to build a health system that will stop one child in five dying before its fifth birthday. We need to ensure that every girl attends school, and that every student receives a quality education. We need to ensure that those young people who were denied the right to learning because of a generation of conflict are able to develop new skills that will make them productive members of society. We need to give back the right to a safe motherhood to every woman in Afghanistan, and deliver community-based maternal health services that will prevent one woman dying every 20 minutes as a result of complications in childbirth and pregnancy.”

Sapra reassured the people of Afghanistan of UNICEF’s long-term commitment to the reconstruction process. “UNICEF never left Afghanistan over the last five decades. Even in the darkest hours, our Afghan staff continued to deliver vital services for children and women. That dedication to the rights of Afghanistan’s mothers and children continues, and is strengthened by the progress we have seen in such a short time. But with other global issues now attracting international interest, it is crucial that Afghanistan does not slip from the donors’ radar screen. If it does, then the world will have failed the very women and children that it promised never to forget just two years ago.”

UNICEF’s 2003 budget for programmes in Afghanistan is US$ 110 million. As of November 2003, funding to the organization stood at 88% of budget.

Dr. Sharad Sapra is available for interview, through the contacts below.

For more information, please contact:

Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Media – Kabul +93 (0)702 78493
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media – Kabul +93 (0)702 74729





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