22 January 2007Responding to a rise in pneumonia, bronchitis and other acute respiratory infections in Afghanistan following a wave of record cold temperatures there, the United Nations health agency is sending antibiotics for thousands of people and putting in place a system to protect many more from catching the illnesses. “Early recognition and prompt treatment are essential if we are to save lives,” UN spokesman Adrian Edwards told a press briefing in Kabul, the capital. He noted that acute respiratory infections account for 20 per cent of all deaths among children under five.Portions of the country are experiencing their coldest winter in more than 70 years, mirroring other South Asian States, such as Bangladesh, India and Nepal, which are also facing dipping temperatures. In Afghanistan, eight major provinces – Kabul, Nangahar, Paktia, Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, Badakshan and Bamiyan – have been hit particularly hard, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). The agency is creating a Disease Early Warning System by sending surveillance teams to the affected areas and distributing medical kits with 120,000 doses of antibiotics for the most vulnerable. It has also issued simple hygiene measures to prevent the spread of respiratory infections during the winter.Also today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced a $50 million project to bolster health care and education for children in conjunction with the Government.The health portion will target child survival, maternal health, nutrition and HIV/AIDS by training provincial health caregivers on treating malnourished children. It will also fund programmes to increase polio immunizations and vaccines against measles and tetanus.The UNICEF project also aims to build 246 new schools, develop textbooks for students in grades 7 to 9, train 11,500 newly-recruited female teachers, start literacy courses for 215,000 men and women, and de-worm almost 6 million children.Meanwhile, in the southern province of Helmand where there is heavy fighting, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing over 233 tons of emergency food supplies, including wheat, lentils and cooking oil, to 2,700 displaced families.