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Infant and child mortality

Afghan children have much better prospects of reaching adulthood than ever before, but 1 out of 10 children still dies before the age of five. Many deaths can be prevented with simple measures such as safe drinking water, nutritious food and vaccinations.

Big problems, simple solutions

Information campaign on good breast-feeding habits. Photo: NAC. Despite continuing insecurity, Afghanistan has made faster progress on children’s health situation than many of its neighbours. The country still faces significant challenges but the good news is that many of the solutions are both cost-effective and low-tech. Safe drinking water and basic healthcare in rural communities, along with
better nutrition will help many children survive into adulthood. Such simple things as good breastfeeding practices and sanitary practices such as a handwash can significantly improve child health.

Fetching water is often a chore for children. When clean water is not available, the children are exposed to water-borne diseases. Photo: NAC. In 2011, only half of all Afghans had access to clean drinking water. It is estimated that waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhoea, cause the death of around 85,000 children each year. These are problems that can be significantly reduced by introducing a water pump in the village square or increasing awareness about the importance of a handwash. Children and women benefit the most when a safe water supply is introduced, as they are often responsible for fetching water for the household in rural Afghanistan. Unclean sources of water make them more exposed to outbreaks of waterborne diseases as they carry the water home and clean it.

One of three polio-ridden countries

A woman administers polio vaccine to her child. Photo by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection under CC license on FlickrAlthough Afghanistan has a national vaccination plan, a 2010 research showed that a quarter of Afghan children hadn’t received any of the prescribed vaccinations they should get before their first birthday. Afghanistan is one of only three countries where polio is still endemic. There is no cure for this paralysing disease, however, through an effective vaccination campaign, it has been all but eradicated in most countries in the world.

Almost one in three children are underweight. Many more lack basic nutrients, resulting in deficiency syndromes. An undernourished child stands a higher risk of dying from common diseases. Those who do survive, are more prone to repeated illness and delayed physical and mental development.  The 2010/2011 AMICS survey found that one third of Afghan children are anaemic due to a lack of iron in their nutrition and only a half of all Afghan children get necessary vitamin A supplements. In addition, only 20% of households use iodised salt, a low-cost prevention of iodine deficiency. 


Afghanistan mortality survey 2010, by Afghan Public Health Institute, Ministry of Public Health (APHI/MoPH) [Afghanistan], Central Statistics Organization (CSO) [Afghanistan], ICF Macro, Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) [India], and World Health Organization Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO/EMRO) [Egypt]

Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010-2011: Final Report, by the Central Statistics Organisation (CSO) [Afghanistan] and UNICEF.

Factsheet on water, sanitation and hygiene, november 2011, UNICEF Afghanistan.

Statistics for Afghanistan, UNICEF webpage.

Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
Addresse:  Nawai Watt, Street # 03 •  Postal addresse:
work # 148 Shahr-i-Naw, KabulAfghanistan

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