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Half of Afghan children suffer malnutrition

Nearly 41% of Afghan children under the age of five years suffer from chronic form of malnutrition, said UNICEF on Monday.

The government in collaboration with UNICEF and partners joined hundreds of millions of people today in celebrating the annual Global Handwashing Day, emphasizing the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent disease and save lives.

Globally, about 55 out of 1000 children cannot make it to their 5th birthday and diarrhoea is one of the main causes. About 70 per cent of cases of diarrhoea could be associated with poor food hygiene which can be easily addressed with proper hygiene practices including handwashing with soap. Diarrhoea also contributes to under nutrition among children.

In Afghanistan, nearly 41% of children under the age of five years suffer from a chronic form of malnutrition called stunting. Studies indicate that handwashing with soap, can reduce stunting by 15 per cent and prevent diarrheal disease by up to 48 percent, and is considered as one of the most cost effective and simple public health interventions.

In an event held today at the Malika Suraya High School in Kabul as part of this year’s commemoration, Government officials, teachers, parents and communities across the country, made the call to ‘wash hands with soap’ during the critical period; after using the toilet, cleaning a baby, before handling food and before feeding children.

Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim Shinwari, the deputy minister of general education stated, “Handwashing is a crucial behaviour for students. It not only prevents them from disease but they can adopt the behaviour and serve as agents of change for other family members and communities’.

Young girls aged 10-16 years joined representatives of the Ministries of Education, Public Health, Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Hajj and Islamic Affairs and UNICEF at a handwashing with soap demonstrative exercise, to raise awareness about the importance and simplicity of this life-saving action.

‘According to the Health Management Information System, over three million cases of diarrhoea among under five children were reported in 2017”, states Dr. Mamosai Zewar, Deputy Minister of Public Health,” Handwashing is not only important for the prevention of diarrhoea and stunting but it is also linked with the prevention of Polio, emphasized Zewar.

Studies have shown that more than 40 per cent of diarrhoeal diseases among school children is contracted in schools’ environment due to poor sanitation and hygiene conditions. Use of sanitation facilities and handwashing with soap can significantly protect children from diarrhoea.

“The very simple act of habitual handwashing with soap can save many lives. Halting the spread of diarrhoeal disease is not complicated or costly, it is just vital that handwashing with soap becomes a normal routine for everyone, adults and children alike. Handwashing with soap is one of the most cost effective and reliable low-cost ‘vaccines’ that can prevent communicable diseases, said Adele Khodr UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.

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