KYOTO — Although international aid has flowed into Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime last October, Afghan people living far from Kabul are still suffering from malnourishment and a poor living and education environment, according to a Kyoto-based nonprofit organization.
Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) has been providing people in Herat, western Afghanistan, with medical and educational support since February.
In May, it began offering medical tests for and treatment of tuberculosis in a major hospital in Gulran, about a four-hour drive to the northwest of Herat, as well as treatment at a clinic in a village in cooperation with the government of Hamid Karzai, local authorities and the World Health Organization.
Dr. Yasuyuki Honda, a respiratory organ specialist from Kyoto Minami Hospital who worked as a volunteer at the Gulran hospital from May 13 to June 10, told a gathering Friday evening in Kyoto that many people, especially women, are going hungry.
“There are many people suffering from malnutrition, and medical treatment alone will not be effective,” Honda said, adding that adequate food should be the first priority in fighting TB.
Concerns among Afghan people over the infection have been evident in their heightened wishes to undergo TB tests, he said.
“We had to restrict the number of people who could take the test because so many came to the hospital.”
During the first 10 days of TB treatment, 175 took the test, of which five tested positive, according to Honda. In Afghanistan, about 75 percent of TB patients are women, which is high compared with other countries.
This could be attributed to dwellings that often lack proper ventilation, where women tend to stay all day, the doctor said. Houses are filled with bad air because firewood is burned inside. In addition, people lack knowledge about how to take care of their health, he said.
“Although TB patients need to take medication for at least six months, many people fail to continue taking it when their condition improves,” Honda said.
“It allows some TB viruses to survive and become resistant to antibiotic medication.”
NICCO, in cooperation with other bodies, plans to set up three more medical clinics and appoint a health worker in each of the 367 villages in Gulran, where people are living in mud and straw houses without electricity or water.
As for the educational project, NICCO has worked to improve the environments of three schools in Herat. It restored one school for elementary, junior high and high school children by installing doors, windows, chairs and desks. The renovation was partly funded by money from the 2001 yearend Japan Times Readers’ Fund. The school was once used by the Taliban as a storehouse.
NICCO also provided two other schools with carpets, blackboards and other goods.
Tetsuya Watanabe, 24, a Kyoto University graduate student who, as a NICCO intern, helped the education project get rolling while staying in Herat between February and May, said he was surprised to find that some children were studying in a tent, which becomes terribly hot under the sun and gets soaking wet when it rains.
“Children who can study at a school, even if it is not fully furnished, are very rare. Many have to study in much worse conditions, such as in a tent,” said Watanabe, who had never been to a developing country before.
But he said he was encouraged by the children’s beaming smiles and the kindness and hospitality of the people in Herat.
“I went there to help Afghan people, but I was, on many occasions, helped a lot by them,” Watanabe said.
Nurse takes on hunger
Aid and support from the international community are still essential to tackling the continuing malnutrition in Afghanistan, according to a Japanese nurse who returned from a nine-month mission to the country for an international aid group.
“Many people may think peace has been fully restored in Afghanistan, but problems such as malnutrition have not really improved. Continued support is essential,” Rumi Inoue, 30, told a news conference last week at the Tokyo office of Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in English as Doctors Without Borders.
Inoue, who was sent by the Paris-based MSF to the war-torn country after the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in October, worked in a refugee camp in the city of Herat in western Afghanistan from December.
She helped provide medical treatment and distributed food to some 400 children under the age of 5 who were showing symptoms of malnutrition, she said.
“I was very happy to see children who had been skinny get stronger, and to see girls who had not been able to go to school attend classes enthusiastically,” Inoue said.
Meanwhile, the rate of child malnutrition is still high, especially in rural villages distant from Herat, she said.
“The situation is even more severe (in rural areas) than in the cities, as aid cannot be delivered,” Inoue said.
Although there has been improvement after long years of drought, “crop harvests such as wheat are still insufficient. There is a high possibility of starvation again this winter,” she said.
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