Afghan Children Are Still Dying from Treatable Diarrhea

Afghan children
Afghan children ask a military patrol for food, Qalat Region, April 20th, 2009. Photo: Constantin Mireanu/Flickr

Every day in Afghanistan, 26 children die from diarrhea, with 9,500 dying across the country every year from what is an easily treatable disease, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.

UNICEF said the number of children under age five dying from the disease has fallen below 10,000 for the first time, but diarrhea-related deaths still account for about 12 percent of the 80,000 children in that age group who die in Afghanistan every year.

“Deaths from diarrhea are particularly tragic because in most cases, they can be easily avoided,” UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Adele Khodr said. “Using a toilet and washing your hands is literally a matter of life or death.”

Poor sanitation and hygiene are the causes of most diarrhea cases in Afghanistan, UNICEF said, but rampant malnutrition contributes to the number of deaths. Some 1.2 million children in Afghanistan are malnoruished and 41 percent are stunted, meaning they are shorter and weigh less than others in their age group.

According to UNICEF, only 23 percent of the Afghan population has access to clean drinking water, and the problem is worse in rural areas, where nearly three-fourths of people have no access to sanitation facilities.

UNICEF has been working with Afghan communities to mitigate the risks of diarrhea-related deaths, and declared 500 “open defecation free” this year. Families identify areas around their homes that are used for public waste. The initiative uses a combination of societal pressure and “shock, shame, pride and disgust” to influence families to build indoor toilets.