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Afghanistan: Contaminated water supplies likely cause of increased diarrhea

Herat, July 11, 2007 (IRIN): Recent flooding in many parts of Afghanistan which has contaminated drinking water sources is seen as the most likely cause of the reported increase in diarrhea cases countrywide.

Over 10,000 people with acute diarrhea, mainly children, have sought treatment at hospitals in four Afghan provinces, including Kabul, over the past three weeks.

"For the last six weeks 200-300 diarrhea patients a day, almost all of them children, have been visiting our hospital," the head of a hospital in the northern province of Balkh, Abdula Rawof Ferogh, said on 10 July.

At least 20 deaths have been reported in several districts of Daykundi (central Afghanistan) and Balkh provinces in the past five weeks, provincial health workers said.

The outbreak has also affected other parts of the country.

In the western province of Herat over 3,800 patients have sought treatment for gastrointestinal disorders over the last three weeks, according to officials from the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

In the southern province of Helmand, where aid and development activities have been widely affected by insecurity, up to 80 diarrhea patients are visiting a hospital in the provincial capital, Laskargah, every day, a local medical worker said.

Provincial health officials in the provinces of Khost, Kandahar and Nangarhar have also confirmed hundreds of diarrhea cases. IRIN was unable to obtain comparative figures for previous years in all the above regions.

MoPH spokesman Abdullah Fahim said women and children were particularly vulnerable to the disease. "Most of the patients admitted to hospitals are children under five," he told IRIN in Kabul.

Causes

Recent torrential rain and flooding have caused extensive destruction across many provinces and contaminated water sources.

People in flood-affected provinces say their sources of potable water - already affected by a long drought - such as open wells, tarns and lagoons, have been either damaged or contaminated by muddy and polluted water.

Apart from a lack of clean water, seasonal fruits and vegetables consumed without proper washing in clean water are also considered a major source of the problem.

"Food is another cause of diarrhea when it is prepared or stored in unhygienic conditions," Fahim said.

Diarrhea can also spread from person to person, aggravated by poor personal hygiene, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Diarrhea is mostly caused by gastrointestinal infections which globally kill more than two million people each year, mostly children in underdeveloped and developing countries, WHO says.

Severe diarrhea can also threaten life due to fluid loss in the body, particularly in infants and young children, the malnourished and people with weak immunity.