Afghanistan's deputy health minister calls on U.S. Government to fulfill its commitments to Afghanistan and dedicate support to address Afghanistan's health crisis

First In-Depth Nationwide Survey in Over a Decade Highlights Striking Health Needs

WASHINGTON, DC (DECEMBER 12, 2002) — A startling picture of Afghanistan's health needs was presented yesterday by the country's Deputy Minister of Public Health, Dr. Ferozudeen Feroz, who explained the results of a six-month effort to analyze Afghanistan's available health services. More than 80 Congressional staff, government officials, and the public gathered at the briefing on Capitol Hill to learn more about what steps the Ministry is taking to address the vast needs for health services throughout the country after nearly a quarter century of conflict, exacerbated by disease, drought and poverty.

"We are laying the foundation for equitable quality health care for the people of Afghanistan, especially women and children," said Dr. Feroz, who is in Washington this week to meet with US government officials and make his case for supporting reconstruction of the health system in Afghanistan. "As you know, our needs are great:

  • 70 percent of existing primary care clinics are unable to provide even basic mother and child services;
     
  • 90 percent of hospitals do not have the complete equipment to perform C-sections;
     
  • 40 percent of all basic health facilities do not have female staff;
     
  • more than 25 percent of children die before their fifth birthday;
     
  • 40 percent of child deaths are due to the preventable causes of diarrhea and acute respiratory infections."

"We need resources to turn these statistics around and rebuild our country," explained Feroz. "Health is a sound investment, with high rates of return in individual well-being, national productivity, international peace and security."

The fact-based overview is a result of the first in-depth assessment of health facilities and services in more than a decade. Over a period of four months (June-September 2002), Management Sciences for Health trained and sent out more than 160 Afghan nationals to survey a total 1,038 health facilities, 2,915 community health workers and 1,445 pharmaceutical outlets in all 32 provinces. The comprehensive database created by the Afghanistan National Health Resources Assessment (ANHRA) will serve as a baseline for intensive province-by-province outreach, planning and workshops being undertaken in the coming months.

As Management Sciences for Health founder and CEO, Dr. Ron O'Connor, pointed out, "This is a crucial point in the future development of Afghanistan's health infrastructure. The Ministry of Health is taking the leadership role necessary to move the health sector forward after years of neglect, and to have a meaningful impact on the daily lives of the women and children of Afghanistan."

The survey results help to explain the recent findings of a maternal mortality study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF, which found Afghanistan to have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world at 1,600 per 100,000 live births. In the United States, the maternal mortality rate is 12 per 100,000.

According to Save the Children, a global development and relief organization, all the data indicate greater investments must be made toward ensuring the well-being of women and children, who are at highest risk in Afghanistan.

"What's on paper must be put into action," said Bruce Rasmussmen, Operations Director for Save the Children's programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan who spoke at the briefing. "The U.S. government must follow through on its commitment to Afghanistan by providing the necessary funding for effective and affordable health programs. The health and survival of mothers and children depends on it."

Rebuilding Afghanistan will cost roughly $15 billion over the next ten years, according to a joint preliminary assessment conducted by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program. The United States pledged $297 million in Tokyo and has already more than met its initial one-year commitment to Afghan reconstruction. In the spirit of President Bush's earlier call for a 'Marshall Plan for Afghanistan,' Congress passed the Afghan Freedom Support Act in November 2002, which would allocate $2.3 billion over the next four years. The questions that remain are whether the government will make the money available and whether health will be a priority.

Management Sciences for Health, a Boston-based non-governmental organization (NGO), acted as the technical lead on the assessment, with initial funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and later support from the Europeans, Japanese and the United Nations.