Common Diseases in Afghanistan

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently called the health status in Afghanistan one of the worst in the world. Most of the common diseases in Afghanistan are communicable, and epidemics are happening more frequently than in the past. The health system is trying to recover from decades of neglect, under-funding, institutional vacuum and fragmentation. These are the 10 most common diseases in Afghanistan:

  1. Tuberculosis plagues nearly 35 percent of Afghanistan’s citizens. This respiratory disease can be caused by overcrowding, cold-conditions and can be transmitted through the use of a temporary shelter.
  2. Malaria occurs more often during the warmer months and is spread through mosquito bites. It causes a flu-like illness, can be deadly if untreated and is found all over the country.
  3. Cholera often occurs in epidemics because it is caused by bacteria found in water and food that has been contaminated with feces. It spreads quickly in places with low-quality water treatment, unsanitary surroundings and poor hygiene.
  4. Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) occurs from tick bites or the touching of livestock animals’ blood or tissue. Outbreaks can have up to a 40 percent fatality rate. It can take a week for symptoms to occur, which include fever, myalgia, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes, photophobia, mood swings and confusion.
  5. Measles is another respiratory disease and is very contagious. A small rate of measles vaccination cause this disease to be more common in India, and malnutrition and vitamin A deficiencies also contribute to the rate that children are affected.
  6. Meningococcal meningitis is much like measles being respiratory in nature and highly contagious. It also occurs year-round, peaking between November and February.
  7. Hepatitis A is commonly contracted during childhood for most Afghans and then gets spread through consuming food and water that has been contaminated by contaminated fecal matter. Vaccines are available, but symptoms like fever, jaundice and diarrhea can occur for six to nine months for 15 percent of victims.
  8. Poliomyelitis (polio) seriously threatens many Afghan children. This infectious viral disease is mostly spread through the faecal-oral route, prompted by inadequately sanitized surroundings. Paralysis can even occur if the disease moves to the nervous system. There is no cure for polio and vaccinations are recommended for prevention.
  9. Rabies is a viral disease of mammals. People are affected through animal bites, especially from dogs. Symptoms start with a fever and headache but then can move into more serious neurological symptoms. Death usually occurs within days of symptoms.
  10. Typhoid fever is another disease that can be picked up through contaminated water. The disease only lives in humans’ bloodstreams and intestinal tracts so that it gets found in an affected person’s feces. However, the disease gets commonly spread in unsanitary areas of the world.

These 10 common diseases in Afghanistan can be deadly when untreated. Luckily, many medical relief organizations are working to eradicate the likelihood of these diseases and to provide vaccinations to those in need of them.

Emily Arnold

Photo: Google

Facts and Figures of Afghanistan
After decades of war, Afghanistan is trying to recover and rebuild its country. The following are 10 facts and figures of Afghanistan.

  1. The current population is estimated at 33,300,000, which ranks 41 in the world and includes a 2.34% increase in 2016.
  2. Infant mortality was reported by the CIA in 2016 as 112.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, the highest in the world, while the average life expectancy in 2016 was 43.8.
  3. Recently, more health resources have been made available to women, including access to contraceptives, more midwives and prenatal and postnatal care. As a result, the infant mortality rate, reported in USAID-funded government statistics, fell from 66 to 45 deaths per 1,000 live births between 2001 and 2015.
  4. After years of civil unrest and natural disasters, Afghanistan was reported as one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 169 out of 187 in 2012. Additional facts and figures of Afghanistan include the 2016 GDP, which was recorded as approximately $64.08 billion, a $1.26 billion increase from 2015.
  5. The international community has committed to helping Afghanistan rebuild itself by pledging over $83 billion between 2003 and 2015. Donors have pledged an additional $3.8 billion in 2016 for development aid between 2017 and 2020.
  6. Due to the large percentage of the population living in poverty, more than 1.5 million people are severely food-insecure. An additional 7.3 million people are moderately food-insecure, and about 60 percent of children under five years old are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.
  7. While access to food is a major issue, water quality also proves to be a problem in Afghanistan.  As of 2012, 27% of the population has access to clean water, which reduces to 20% in rural areas, the lowest in the world. Access is limited mainly due to damaged or destroyed infrastructure from years of war. Because of this and the lack of reservoirs and canals, only 30-35% of clean mountain water is accessible to the population.
  8. With hunger and poor water quality at the forefront of Afghanistan’s growing list of problems, the World Food Programme has increased its support in recent years. Shifting its focus from emergency assistance to rehabilitation and recovery, the WFP has provided more than 3.6 million people with aid, including nutritious meals for the malnourished, food for training and assisting with infrastructure rehabilitation.
  9. Education is also seeing slow but continuous improvement. Afghanistan’s literacy rate rose 7% from 2011 to 2015, where it was reported at 38.2%. Although low compared to other nations, it is continuing to increase with help from aid and rehabilitation programs around the country.
  10. In addition, in 2002, an estimated 900,000 boys attended school, while women and girls were almost completely excluded. However, with help from the Afghanistan ministry of education, USAID and other donors, as of July 2017, more than 16,000 schools have been built, 154,000 teachers recruited and net enrollment rates for children increased by 60%.

As shown by these 10 facts and figures of Afghanistan, with help from various aid programs and the Afghanistan government, the country is making strides to improve the daily life and future opportunities for its citizens.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Afghanistan
Armed conflict continues between Taliban and government forces, leaving human rights in Afghanistan a ravaged victim to the ongoing violence. The crisis has escalated and become a significant recipient of foreign aid. From displacement, abuse and harsh punishments to humanitarian assistance and defenders of human rights, here are six important facts to know about human rights in Afghanistan.

  1. As of September 30, 2016, the U.N. had documented 8,397 civilian casualties as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. Terrorist groups in the region were responsible for 61% of these deaths, while both official and unofficial government forces were responsible for 23% of civilian casualties.
  2. There were 15 documented incidents of the compromisation of medical treatment facilities in the first half of 2016 alone. Government forces are known to conduct search operations in hospitals and clinics, delay or impede the provision of medical supplies and use health facilities for military purposes.
  3. As of August 2016, Afghan judiciaries had registered more than 3,700 cases of violence against women and girls. Under Shari’a law, the Taliban and other armed groups increased their public punishment of women for so-called “moral crimes.” Punishments included public lashings and executions.
  4. The U.N. Refugee Agency documented 2.6 million Afghan refugees living in the world as of 2016. Ninety-five percent of these refugees now live in Iran and Pakistan where they face discrimination, racial attacks, lack of basic amenities and mass deportation.
  5. Armed groups regularly target active defenders of human rights in Afghanistan. For example, in August 2016, unknown individuals kidnapped, tortured and killed the brother of a local women’s rights activist. They then used the brother’s phone to further threaten the sister into ceasing her human rights work.
  6. According to data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, humanitarian aid reached 1.3 million people in the first quarter of 2017.  The current Humanitarian Response Plan in Afghanistan calls for funding of $550.2 million. The program has received 27.2% of that funding so far.

Programs are in place to provide as many Afghan people as possible with the aid they require. However, while such foreign aid response systems are incredibly beneficial, the next crucial step is to take preventative measures against the recurring violations of human rights in Afghanistan.

Sophie Nunnally

Photo: Flickr

Since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghanistan trade has steadily increased, with the country partnering with more countries and receiving aid from the U.S. Being a landlocked country, Afghanistan relies heavily on its neighbors for transit routes and trade agreements. The country is working to expand its trade relations and recently partnered with India to create an air freight corridor. Here are 10 facts about Afghanistan trade.

10 Facts About Afghanistan Trade

  1. In July 2016, Afghanistan became a member of the World Trade Organization, a move which provides the country with trade and transit opportunities that are simple, reliable and profitable.
  2. There has been an increase in exports in Afghanistan from $570.50 million to $571.41 million between 2015 and 2016. Imports in Afghanistan decreased from $7.729 billion to $7.7228 billion between 2015 and 2016.
  3. In 2016, Afghanistan recorded a trade deficit of $7.151 billion. The country’s trade deficit has been widening since 2006 due to reconstruction efforts.
  4. Afghanistan’s top exports are fruits, nuts, vegetable saps, gems and precious metals.
  5. The top imports are peat, raw sugar, wheat flours and petroleum gas.
  6. Currently, Afghanistan is the 93rd largest trading partner with the U.S. In 2016, the U.S. exported goods to Afghanistan totalling 913 million USD, while the total imported goods from Afghanistan was 34 million USD.
  7. In May of 2016, Afghanistan, Iraq and India signed the Chabahar port agreement. This agreement was to build a port in Iran and construct a transport corridor for trade through Afghanistan. The construction of the port was originally expected to be completed by November 2017, yet now seems unlikely due to souring relations between the U.S. and Iran.
  8. There has been a recent 27 percent decline in trade volume between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan was previously Afghanistan’s top importer, but, due to the conflict between the two countries, some trade has been blocked.
  9. On Wednesday, June 21, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI) stated that Pakistan has been attempting to open a new illegal transit route with Afghanistan. This is an attempt to salvage the declining trade industry between the two countries. There are already more than 10 illegal trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan where millions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled through annually. Despite the potential for economic gain, Afghanistan only wishes to promote legal trade and transit with Pakistan, said MoCI’s head of transit department Sayed Yahya Akhlaqi.
  10. Afghanistan has recently established a new, direct air freight corridor with India, opening the opportunity for an increasing volume of trade between the two countries. This agreement is a significant advantage for Afghanistan, providing access to the Indian market, a promising one for Afghan goods according to Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali.

There is more to know than just these 10 facts about Afghanistan trade. The country is making strides to better its trade with other nations, especially since the blockage of its previous top trade partner. According to Abdali, Afghanistan is open to anyone for connectivity and trade, even to Pakistan.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Flickr

The poverty rate in Afghanistan is currently at 39 percent, accounting for all Afghan citizens living below the poverty line. This translates to 1 in 3 citizens who are unable to satisfy their basic needs.

This high poverty rate is not only an increase of three percent from 2011 to 2012, but it is also demonstrative of the 15 years of economic and social progress that is increasingly at risk in the nation. According to the World Bank’s Poverty Status Update Report, since the beginning of the withdrawal of international forces in 2011 and of the political transition period, Afghanistan has suffered deteriorating security and employment opportunities despite general economic growth.

The World Bank’s report stated that one of the main reasons for the increased poverty rate is the significant decline in labor market conditions, a setback that hurts rural and youth populations the most. Between 2011 and 2014, rural poverty increased by 14 percent while urban poverty remained unchanged.

These numbers reflect the social inequalities deeply ingrained in Afghan society that are stressed in times of hardship, insecurity or crisis. Afghans living in urban settings are simply better protected and have better access to economic opportunities and health services than those who live in rural areas. Gender inequality is still overwhelming in Afghanistan, illustrated by a sharp decline in girls’ primary school attendance congruent with the rise in poverty.

In Afghanistan’s rural areas, 90 percent of women and 63 percent of men are illiterate. Furthermore, these men and women are also heavily dependent on livestock and agriculture for a decent portion of their income. A basic lack of resources, harsh climate conditions and years of conflict have made rural livelihoods difficult and vulnerable to any peril.

Fortunately, Afghanistan’s economy is predicted to eventually rebound; however, in order to reduce poverty going forward, areas of struggle and fragility must be addressed and prioritized. To promote future progress, health and education services need to be made more accessible to everyone and youth need to be integrated into the labor force.

Overall, to reduce the poverty rate in Afghanistan, the state needs to focus on more comprehensive, particularly rural, development to close the wide gap between the upper and lower classes and cultivate a more equal, prosperous population.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

Two hundred female nursing students recently graduated from six nursing schools in Afghanistan. Now, the students will return to their communities to offer medical assistance in areas most in need.

The women participated in a two-year medical training program including accommodations, three meals a day, transportation and a living allowance. Their days included both time in class and practical work in city hospitals, where the women learned how to perform basic surgery, how to advise pregnant women regarding basic care and nutrition, studied the treatments for various ailments and filled prescriptions.

After completing two years of study, the women work in their village clinics; some reside 100 kilometers or more away from the school. If they perform well, they receive a diploma.

The UNDP, in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, set up six nursing schools in Afghanistan. The Global Fund provided a grant for approximately $8 million, allocated to strengthening the health system in Afghanistan through training nurses and improving access to medical care in the community.

Primarily, these nurses provide medical care to two populations desperately in need: people in rural areas and women. However, healthcare professionals from outside a specific area will often avoid rural villages out of fear for their safety.

Women, in particular, lack the ability to receive quality healthcare due to certain cultural norms: women are often not permitted to be treated by a male doctor, and female healthcare workers are few in number. According to WHO, 40 percent of health care facilities in Afghanistan do not have any women on staff.

Women also lack both privacy and the ability to make choices about their treatment. Additionally, healthcare workers often have limited knowledge of women’s health issues. As a result, in 2015 the infant mortality rate in Afghanistan at 45 percent and the maternal mortality ratio of 1,291 per 100,000 live births are among the highest in the world.

Thankfully, having trained female nurses increases the potential to address many of these issues. However, these women must face unique obstacles; it is not customary for women to live or study away from home. In a country in which, according to 2015 USAID statistics, only 8.6 percent of women received a degree in secondary or higher education, and only 14.8 percent of women are literate, these women set a very powerful precedent.

Emilia Otte

Photo: Flickr

Sima Samar is one of the most influential people in the world, advocating for other women and minority groups. Her humanitarian pursuits have not come without serious risk to her life, and yet Sima Samar has never deterred her efforts. As quoted in the Afghanistan Foreign Policy and Government Guide, she once stated, “I’ve always been in danger, but I don’t mind. I believe that we will die one day so I said let’s take the risk and help somebody else.” Here are 10 facts about Sima Samar and her lifelong activism.

10 Facts About Sima Samar and Her Impact

  1. Samar grew up as a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority with 10 siblings and a polygamist father. Attending school in Lashkargah, Samar began speaking out for women’s rights as early as the seventh grade.
  2. Samar’s father would not let her attend university unless she agreed to an arranged marriage. She accepted a marriage to Abdul Chafoor Sultani on the terms that he let her study medicine. Samar received a medical degree from Kabul University in 1982. She was the first Hazara woman in Afghanistan to do so.
  3. One night in 1978, 10 men broke into Samar’s home and kidnapped her husband and his three brothers. They were among the 500 educated people kidnapped during the Russian invasion never to be seen or heard from again.
  4. In 1984, oppressive Russian forces forced Samar to flee to Pakistan with her young son. She stayed there for the next 17 years, dedicating herself to aiding other Afghan refugees.
  5. By 1987, Samar helped open the first hospital for women, staffed by women in Pakistan. She also set up education programs for girls in the country. She did this despite opposition from conservative leaders in Pakistan and limited funding.
  6. In 1989, Samar established the Shuhada Organization, a nonprofit that strives for a prosperous, democratic and socially just Afghanistan with an emphasis on empowering women and children. Founding the Shuhada Organization was dangerous for Samar because it directly opposed the uncompromising Taliban regime that seized control of Afghanistan in 1994. Samar did not let death threats or public condemnation dishearten or scare her. The organization now runs 55 schools in Afghanistan and three in Pakistan for Afghan refugees.
  7. After the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, Sima Samar was chosen as the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs during the Interim Administration in Afghanistan. As the first ever Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs, she oversaw the re-entry of girls into school and women into the workforce.
  8. Samar has since stepped down as the Minister of Women’s Affairs and now heads Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission.
  9. From 2005 to 2009, Samar worked as the U.N. special reporter on the human rights situation in Sudan.
  10. Samar has been recognized and rewarded by numerous human rights and women’s rights organizations internationally and was named Forbes’ 28th most powerful woman in 2006.

While Samar paid a high price for her achievements, these 10 facts reveal her success as a humanitarian and activist. Sima Samar demonstrates the influence, change and progress one person can achieve; she is truly a woman to be celebrated.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr

Refugees Come From
2015 UNHCR statistics estimate that 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes around the world. This equates to roughly one out of every 113 people on Earth. Almost one percent of the Earth’s population is displaced either internally, as an asylum-seeker, or as a refugee. Approximately 21.3 million of these people are considered refugees, and over half of these refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.


Approximately 4.9 million refugees are from Syria. This is a subset of the 12.3 million people who have been displaced from their homes within or outside of the country. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 with anti-government protests, creating an opening for the militant group ISIS to infiltrate the country. The fighting has killed many citizens while destroying infrastructure including homes, schools, and hospitals.

Most Syrian refugees are resettled in five neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Many struggle to meet their basic needs and most live below the poverty line in these countries. Yet, life is still better in refugee camps than at home.


Around 2.7 million refugees come from Afghanistan. Most of these individuals are resettled in Pakistan and Iran, where their human rights are in constant jeopardy. The number of Afghan refugees continues to dwindle because of continued efforts to repatriate them. These efforts are controversial because citizens still face poverty and war upon their return.

Afghanistan has had economic and security-related difficulties since the withdrawal of many international humanitarian programs in 2014. At the end of 2015, an earthquake displaced even more people. Violence continues to put those remaining in the country in danger. The country’s failing infrastructure has caused a lack of access to electricity, education, and clean water. Women and children are also heavily abused.


Roughly 1.1 million refugees come from Somalia. Since disastrous battles in 1991, Somalia has endured continued conflict. In combination with ongoing flooding and drought, many face extreme poverty and malnutrition.

Seventeen percent of the population is either displaced or living elsewhere as refugees. Thousands of Somalis live in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where they have remained for multiple decades. Many others live in Ethiopia and Yemen. From 1990 to 2015, the number of Somalian-born people living outside the country doubled.

Humanitarian crises have put these countries at the forefront, in terms of numbers, of displaced persons and refugees. Nonetheless, waves of refugees change with global conflict. Most refugees today are fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The 1970s saw many from Vietnam and Cambodia, while the 1990s saw mostly European refugees from the former Soviet Union and Kosovo. No matter where refugees come from or where they resettle, we must continue supporting them.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Afghan Refugees in India
Over the last few decades, pockets of Delhi, India, have become microcosms of Kabul. Afghan refugees forced out of their homes by war and extremism have found themselves living in meager conditions in poorer parts of the city. Despite their less than satisfactory living situations, these refugees have brought their entrepreneurial spirit with them, finding ways to share their Afghan culture with Indians.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is Ilham, a catering service set up by four Afghan women in 2015 with the help of Access, an NGO working in collaboration with UNHCR. The women create local Afghan delicacies such as Kabuli Pulao (rice with spices, vegetables and meat), Mutton do Piaza (mutton curry) and Firni (rice pudding). Since Afghanistan and India have always shared a particularly friendly relationship, these are dishes that have already been popularized in local Indian culture. However, by providing authentic versions, Ilham has managed to gain a large customer base in just over a year.

The success of this and other ventures set up by Afghan refugees in India, can be measured by the reactions of the women of Ilham when asked about their work. For example, Zameera sees not only the financial independence it has brought her, but also the emotional relief from the despair of losing her home and being separated from her family and country. For Zameera, Ilham is as much a business as it is therapy.

For the nearly 11,000 Afghan refugees in India registered with the UNHCR, as well as that much more living unregistered in the country, initiatives like Ilham have become a way of life. A culture of Afghan cuisine has developed in Delhi, where most of the refugees have settled.

The Green Leaf Restaurant, a popular eatery run by Afghan refugees is another success story. Green Leaf has been beneficial for both the owners as well as the surrounding community. Thus, these refugees contribute to the local economy by providing a niche service driven by high consumer demand.

Anecdotes from Afghan refugees in India offer a valuable insight into how the integration of refugees into local communities can be advantageous to both groups. Rather than detracting from Indian culture, Afghan people have added new aspects to it and strengthened an already strong political partnership. In a time when xenophobia is rampant and fear of job loss is high, it is important to remember that the mingling of cultures can create both enhanced identities as well as new markets for new jobs. The Afghan-Indian experience bears testament to the possibility of a harmonious integration and cultural exchange.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr

State of Refugees Worldwide
When it comes to the state of refugees and displaced people worldwide, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stands ready to protect the rights of those forced to leave their homes. Since the commission’s start in 1950, the UNHCR budget has grown from $300,000 in its first year to around $7 billion in 2015. This agency collects a lot of data regarding the whereabouts and status of refugees around the world in order to maintain a steady and productive presence.

With 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless individuals, this type of organization and statistical bookkeeping is essential to progress. Currently, the world is peaking at its highest rate of displacement on record. About half of the global refugee population is under 18, and around 34,000 men, women and children are displaced every day, begging the questions: What countries are these refugees forced to leave? What countries have taken them in?

It is measured that 53 percent of all the world’s refugees are departing from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria — in that order. The civil war in Somalia is the single largest event adding to the refugee population, currently forcing refugees to flee into surrounding areas such as Kenya for the past 24 years.

While in Afghanistan, rampant insurgency from the Taliban and Daesh keep refugees from returning home. Most notable in the current media landscape is the third largest refugee contributor, Syria, which is experiencing genocide, civil war and an increasingly destabilized sociopolitical landscape.

With such a massive population exiting the places they call home, every part of the globe has had to accept displaced peoples. The regions harboring the most refugees are the Middle East and North Africa, collectively populated by 39 percent of all of the world’s displaced individuals. Surprisingly, the United States and Europe admit the least amount of people to seek refuge within their borders at 12 percent and six percent respectively.

As for the individual nations containing the highest refugee populations, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon top the list with Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan not far behind. Turkey currently contains 2.5 million displaced individuals from a multitude of areas, establishing the country as a refugee capitol of sorts. The next closest, Pakistan, contains 1.6 million displaced people. Most of this group comes from Afghanistan, as Pakistan is the closest geographic neighbor for much of the Afghan population.

The UNHCR is currently working in 128 different countries to alleviate the suffering that comes with the mass diaspora. Increased funding, as well as more nations willing to accept those without homes, is required if these problems are to end eventually. Many within the U.S. and abroad continue to work tirelessly to provide future for people with no say in how their lives progress. It will take global cooperation to see this crisis to a peaceful resolution and better the current state of refugees around the world.

– Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr