NEW YORK - United Nations figures show that malnutrition among Afghan children has increased more than 50 percent since 2012, with doctors blaming the ongoing war in the country for the crisis.
Hospitals across Afghanistan have been registering significant increases in severe malnutrition among children, The New York Times reported on Sunday. Severe cases have been reported in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Kunar, Farah, Paktia and Paktika all places where the continuing war has wrecked people’s lives and pushed the poor over the nutritional edge, the report said.
Doctors and aid workers have mainly blamed continuing war and refugee displacement for the hunger crisis. “In 2001, it was even worse, but this is the worst I’ve seen since then,” said Dr. Saifullah Abasin, the head of the malnutrition ward at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul.
“It’s quite an unusual situation, and it’s difficult to understand what’s going on,” said Wiet Vandormael, a Doctors Without Borders official who has helped coordinate with Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gah, the capital of war-torn Helmand province.
Dr. Mohammad Dawood, a pediatrician at Bost Hospital, said there were seven or eight deaths a month there because of acute malnutrition from June through August, and five in September. Doctors around the country have reported similar rates. Officials at UNICEF and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health have declined to characterize child malnutrition here as an emergency, however, according to the Times.
As defined internationally, that would mean severe acute malnutrition in more than 10 percent of children younger than 5; health officials in Afghanistan estimate the rate is more like 7 percent.
“Science-wise, the increase in number of children reporting to the hospitals is not an absolute evidence the situation is getting worse,” said Moazzem Hossain, head of nutrition for Unicef here, was quoted as saying. “It’s a good sign, the programme is expanding, more are being screened and more are being found and treated.” Doctors treating the victims give several explanations for the crisis. “There are mines in their fields, and they can’t get to their crops,” said Dr. Dawood in Helmand province. “And they can’t get to help at local clinics, so they’re coming in very late stage in very critical condition.”
The US and its allies entered the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but the war has ruined the lives of people of Afghanistan.
The Times said, "What is clear is that, despite years of Western involvement and billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, children’s health is not only still a problem, but also worsening, and the doctors bearing the brunt of the crisis are worried.
"Nearly every potential lifeline is strained or broken here. Efforts to educate people about nutrition and health care are often stymied by conservative traditions that cloister women away from anyone outside the family. Agriculture and traditional local sources of social support have been disrupted by war and the widespread flight of refugees to the cities. And therapeutic feeding programmes, complex operations even in countries with strong health care systems, have been compromised as the flow of aid and transportation have been derailed by political tensions or violence.
"Perhaps nowhere is the situation so obviously serious as in the malnutrition ward at Bost Hospital, which is admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition four times more than it did in January 2012, according to officials with Doctors Without Borders, which supports the Afghan-run hospital with financing and supplementary staff."