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Pneumonia cases soaring in Afghanistan, killing children: NGO

Children wait for free bread in front of a bakery in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 24, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Pneumonia cases in Afghanistan are soaring, killing children, who are unable to access healthcare facilities, the UK-based international NGO Save the Children says.

Save the Children said in a report published on Monday that in December last year, half of the parents they spoke to in Afghanistan claimed their children had had pneumonia in the preceding two weeks and more than half (55%) of the surveyed households who needed healthcare in the prior three months hadn't been able to get it.

Almost 60 percent of those who hadn't been able to get healthcare also said they had had no money to pay for medical services, while 31 percent acknowledged they would only visit a clinic if the illness was life-threatening.

"Child pneumonia is surging in the middle of a hunger crisis that is ravaging young immune systems. The collapse of the health system, driven largely by frozen financial assets and withdrawn aid, comes at a deadly cost for Afghan children," the NGO said.

One doctor at a hospital said he had never seen so many cases of child pneumonia and severe malnutrition. According to the medical professional, 135 children had died in or on their way to the hospital last December, the majority fighting for breath from pneumonia and 40 severely malnourished.

Even before the latest crisis, pneumonia was responsible for more than one in five deaths of children under five in Afghanistan. According to the World Health Organization's latest figures, pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, which killed 740,180 children under the age of 5 in 2019 and accounted for 22 percent of all deaths in children aged 1 to 5.

"Every day we send several children straight to hospital for oxygen and emergency treatment. Recently, a baby didn’t survive. I called his mother to check up on him and she said he had passed away. It is the worst feeling imaginable," said Sadat, the team leader of one of the Save the Children's mobile health clinics.

Across the country, countless families are battling a bitter winter in freezing and damaged homes, unable to afford heating, their children going to bed cold at night without blankets or warm clothing.

A combination of a suspension of foreign aid, the freezing of Afghan government assets worth billions of dollars by the US, and international sanctions on the Taliban have plunged the country, already suffering from high poverty levels, into a full-blown economic crisis.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August, unemployment levels have also increased throughout the country, leaving parents unable to provide food for their families. The direct result has been a surge in malnutrition, producing a dramatic rise in pneumonia in children.

Afghanistan's economic freefall threatens to leave more than 95% of the population living in poverty.

The interim government of the Taliban has repeatedly called for the release of frozen assets, but Washington has continued to rebuff the calls.


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