Amid soaring child malnutrition rates in Afghanistan — one of many crises in the country — teams of health and nutrition specialists backed by UNICEF are bringing urgently needed services and support to remote communities.
Nine miles from the nearest main road and 68 miles from Kabul, the village of Alisha in central Afghanistan's Maidan Warnak Province has had no access to health care or nutrition support for the past 20 years.
"Imagine what that means for children, women and families," says Dr. Shafiqullah Safi, a UNICEF nutrition specialist. "Imagine your child is sick, he's in pain, and you're not able to do anything about it. That's just wrong. It's 2022. Every child and every mother should have access to basic health and nutrition services."
Since the de facto authorities seized control on Aug. 15, 2021, the deteriorating situation has pushed an estimated 73 percent of Afghanistan's population below the poverty line — and 45 percent of the country has reached emergency levels of food insecurity. By the end of the year, an estimated 19,000 children under the age of 5 will be suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Maidan Warnak.
To provide urgently needed care for malnourished children and others in the community, a UNICEF mobile health team now serves the village of Alisha. The team includes a medical doctor, midwife, nutrition nurse, nutrition counselor, psychosocial counselor and vaccinator.
"A team like this brings reassurance to pregnant women and relief to mothers whose little ones are malnourished," Safi says. "Nutrition counselors can help mothers who are having difficulty breastfeeding. Vaccinators ensure children are safe from preventable diseases."
Local community members have welcomed the mobile health team with open arms.
"If the services are provided, people will come for vaccinations — pregnant women and everyone else," says Jamila, a resident of Alisha. "This is a short distance for us. It's in our own community with our own people. Now, women can visit the clinic by themselves, whenever they need to. Everyone is happy because we don't have access to other clinics. We can't afford it."
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Top photo: Dr. Shafiqullah Safi, a UNICEF nutrition specialist, talks with community members in the village of Alisha, Maidan Warnak Province, central Afghanistan. For the first time in 20 years, Alisha's residents now have access to basic health and nutrition services provided by a UNICEF mobile health team. © UNICEF. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA.