USA Today Examines Afghan Health Sector Successes, Need For Further Improvements

When considering an overhaul of “the failure-plagued Afghanistan reconstruction program,” U.S. development officials are looking to Afghanistan’s health sector, “where more than $1 billion in international aid since 2002 has produced measurable results,” USA Today reports. In Afghanistan, the infant mortality rate has dropped 21 percent and tuberculosis treatment has expanded from 15 percent to 97 percent of cases, according to data from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and the WHO.

According to James Bever – who directs USAID’s Afghanistan-Pakistan task force, which has spent $535 million on Afghan health programs since 2002 – the Afghan Health Ministry collaborated with “big donors to create a list of basic services, determined a common way to build clinics and then divided the country among them,” writes USA Today. “Here’s a place where it works. We’re trying to learn some lessons from that,” Bever said. In 2002, 9 percent of Afghans had access to basic health services, and now 85 percent do, said Afghan Health Minister Sayed Fatimie.

“Afghanistan’s health statistics remain some of the worst in the world,” USA Today writes. Because of “weak and corruption-plagued” government ministries in Afghanistan, most international aid has gone through private contractors and relief groups, which some say “has led to poor coordination, high overhead and spotty performance,” according to USA Today. Most health care aid goes, however, through the Afghan Health Ministry, “where the main donors – USAID, the World Bank and the European Union – have not encountered the problems seen elsewhere in the government, said Julie McLaughlin, the World Bank’s South Asia health manager,” USA Today writes.

“USAID has built more than 700 health clinics. Although there were initial glitches, a 2006 inspector general’s audit found the program had eventually delivered most of what it promised,” according to the newspaper. Despite the successes, the “aid has yet to change Afghanistan’s status as one of the world’s most dangerous places for women to have babies. … About 26,000 Afghan women died in childbirth in 2005, according to [the] WHO,” writes USA Today (Dilanian, 7/16).

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