Three decades of war have dramatically decreased access to health care for citizens of Afghanistan. At least 2.4 million of the country’s people are nomadic and travel with their livestock, making them susceptible to diseases that can be transferred between animals and humans. These diseases, called zoonoses, pose a significant threat to the nomadic population as well as to rural communities that own livestock. A lack of governmental support for animal health knowledge and services exacerbates this threat. Relief International partners with Afghanistan’s health, livestock, education and environment ministries and with local communities to vaccinate animals against and protect humans from zoonoses. According to government officials, RI is the only organization in Afghanistan that fights the spread of zoonotic diseases and works to strengthen how these diseases are tracked by local governments.
With support from the European Union and participation of Afghan citizens, Relief International’s One Health Asia program increases awareness of zoonotic diseases by providing information on their causes and signs of infection to schoolchildren, youths and people who work with animals. This way, people are more likely to recognize the early signs of infection, seek treatment and activate the chain of reporting with local health ministries. One Health seeks to prevent cases of zoonotic disease by educating beneficiaries, particularly women, in proper animal health care and management.
Women in Afghanistan are often the main caretakers of their families and the livestock they depend on, leaving them especially susceptible to the effects of zoonotic diseases. RI focuses on equipping these women with proper animal handling methods in order to protect themselves—and the most vulnerable members of their households, like the elderly and young children—from the adverse effects of animal-borne illnesses.
RI’s disease prevention efforts address needs at all levels of the affected communities from households to government offices by:
- Forming clubs for schoolchildren and youths to raise awareness of zoonotic disease among the next generation of farmers, butchers and livestock traders.
- Teaching children to raise awareness of the dangers of zoonoses and ways to avoid them by distributing brochures, hosting debate competitions, sport games, street plays and walks against disease.
- Generating wider government support for the integration of zoonotic disease prevention into the public health agenda.
- Training butchers and meat vendors to practice and promote hygienic animal slaughtering and dressing techniques animals, proper waste management and disposal.
- Training grassroots-level animal health workers and public health workers as community health workers on zoonoses and One Health to spread the word on the benefits of maintaining healthy livestock and healthy people.
- Establishing a zoonoses research center at Nangarhar University and equipping its laboratories with state of the art research tools.
- Developing zoonoses information resource centers.
- Raising community awareness of zoonotic diseases through radio, news articles, newsletters, TV talk shows and workshops.
- Forming Zoonoses Control Committees (ZCCs) at the district, provincial and national level to facilitate multi-stakeholders collaboration, disease surveillance and reporting.
RI’s work in Afghanistan is part of a transnational program called One Health Asia Program (OHAP) that is funded by the European Union. The OHAP works to alleviate the impact of zoonoses on fragile rural populations by bringing greater awareness, reporting capabilities and preventative measures to avert zoonotic disease outbreaks in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.