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PESHAWAR, Nov 1: Malaria epidemic is feared to break out in the eastern Nangarhar and Laghman provinces of Afghanistan as the number of this malady-stricken patients keep rising in these parts of Afghanistan, sources say.

At Mehtarlan hospital, in Laghman province, 14 malaria affected patients died between Oct 1 and Oct 24, whereas of the 20 patients admitted to the same hospital, on Saturday last, 14 were malaria cases, the sources add.

“The number of malaria-stricken in the Mehtarlan area in Laghman province and Jalalabad in Nangarhar province may assume serious proportions if appropriate health-related precautionary measures are not taken immediately,” said Dr Said Rahim, a Peshawar-based deputy coordinator of the Health Net International, a foreign-funded non-governmental organization involved in extending health cover inside Afghanistan.

Out of the 14 malaria-caused deaths reported in the Mehtarlan hospital, the majority was of children, said the sources.

High rate of malaria affected patients in Mehtarlan has been attributed to an extraordinarily large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) gathering in the mountainous area considered to be safer than the open places at present pounded by the US war planes.

According to Dr Said Rahim, who has recently arrived from Mehtarlan, a large number of IDPs fleeing US attacks have encamped in the area which is getting over-crowded with more and more displaced families heading towards it.

Though the malaria parasite has been striking Afghanistan in the recent past, particularly the country’s eastern parts, Mehtarlan had no history of malaria afflicting its residents, said Dr Said Rahim.

Apart from lack of proper health facilities and non-availability of sufficient quantity of malaria vaccines in the war-battered country, the unprecedented high ratio of malaria in the eastern provinces has also been attributed to the miserable life the IDPs are made to live in the Mehtarlan area.

“Some of the families are staying in places (rooms) usually used to keep animals,” said Dr Said Rahim.

Continued air strikes in and around major towns of Afghanistan including Jalalabad, said the sources, was making relief workers’ job all the more difficult, seriously hampering efforts at providing health coverage inside that country.

Paramedics staff and, in some cases, even doctors have stopped attending state-run hospitals.

Officials of the Health Net International told Dawn that a survey was being conducted in the eastern provinces to determine whether the malady had already attained the form of an epidemic.

“The present situation clearly indicates that the areas are confronted with an epidemic,” said Dr Rahim, adding that “the situation in Mehtralan is extraordinary whereas in Jalalabad it is turning out to be quite serious.”

According to World Health Organization, Afghanistan records between 350,000 and 450,000 cases of falciparum malaria every year — one of the most dangerous forms of malaria — constituting 10 to 20 per cent of all cases of malaria reported in the country.

Afghanistan records high number of the malaria-stricken in the months of October and November.

The diagnostic kits are being dispatched to Mehtarlan area to do the needful to prevent the disease from assuming serious proportions, the sources said.