Preventing Diarrhea that Kills Children in Rural Afghanistan

Preventing Diarrhea that Kills Children in Rural Afghanistan

Female community health worker teaching mothers to improve hygiene and preventing diarrhea in their homes through regular hand washing.

Many children in Afghanistan die each year of easily preventable diseases; nearly 25% of those deaths are due to diarrhea. However, it is not only the fatal cases of severe diarrhea that are imperative to address. Between a quarter and a half of mothers of children less than five years old report their child had diarrhea in the two weeks prior to questioning. These frequent cases of diarrhea are among the main causes of under nutrition, which delays development and is implicated in over half of all childhood deaths.

One of the most effective ways of preventing diarrhea is to improve hygiene in the home, especially through regular hand washing with soap before preparing and eating food, after using the toilet or handling a child’s feces.

USAID’s BASICS project (Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival) is working with NGOs to train community health workers (CHWs) in the importance of teaching hand washing and hygiene to families.

The project developed pictorial books for the CHWs to use in teaching families, since most family members and CHWs in rural areas are illiterate. The CHW, when visiting families, discusses how improved hygiene and hand washing with soap can improve the health of all family members. They show families how and where to set up a place for washing hands in the home.

Nafeesa, a mother in Shingan village in Takhar, Afghanistan province, knows she and her family have benefited from this simple intervention. She said:

Before, my children were often getting sick, especially with diarrhea. But from the time the CHW, Hajira, made a home visit and, using pictures, explained how to use soap to wash our hands properly, my children are much less sick than in past years.

Simple information presented clearly to mothers can have a large impact on the health of children. Teaching older children the importance of all the critical times for hand washing can have short- and long-term benefits. Girls, especially, often have to help their mother feed and care for the younger children. In the future, when they themselves become mothers, the good home and personal hygiene practices they learned will benefit the next generation.

BASICS/Afghanistan, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), provides technical assistance to the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan to address newborn health, community case management of childhood illnesses, nutrition, pediatric hospital care improvement, behavior change communications, and systems strengthening.

Bill Newbrander is Pricipal Technical Director at MSH.