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Feature International Health

Afghanistan: a healthy future?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 13 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3950

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Kate Adams, general practitioner and journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. kateadams{at}

Since the US led invasion of Afghanistan, foreign aid money has greatly improved basic healthcare, Kate Adams finds when she visits hospitals across the country. But will the funds dry up when the troops are gone?

When the Taliban was forced out of power in 2001, many of Afghanistan’s health indicators were among the worst in the world. Today, after more than a decade of substantial aid effort, basic health services have dramatically improved.

In 2003, the newly elected Afghan government introduced the basic package of health services. The package, mostly funded by international donors and aid agencies, focuses on child health and immunisation, public nutrition, the supply of essential drugs, disability, mental health, control of communicable diseases, and maternal health services.

The result is that today maternal mortality is down by an estimated 75% to 327/100 000 (from 1600 per 100 000 in 2002), mortality among under 5s is down to 97/1000 live births (from 257/1000), and for the first time the government is providing mental health services across the country.1 2

Health services still have a long way to go. According to the World Health Organization, 35% of Afghans have no access to healthcare. Security and the geographical terrain are both major factors. The lack of female health workers also stops rural women from attending local health facilities. In Kunar province, for example, 19% of government health facilities do not have a female health worker. But, Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan’s minister of public health, says pregnancy is now safer and the country “is a better place for children to be born.”

The Ministry of Public …

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