Ready for a virus: The Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kabul.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health has reported an outbreak of the deadly Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. Officials say it has claimed eight lives so far in several different provinces and fear that if the outbreak is not controlled, there will be many more deaths.
The World Health Organisation says that the virus, which causes viral haemorrhagic fever outbreaks, has a fatality rate of around 40 percent and is transmitted to people from ticks and livestock. Which is why, as doctors in Afghanistan point out, most of the cases they have registered involve patients who deal regularly with livestock, such as butchers. Afghans living in rural areas are also more at risk.
The survival rate is higher if the virus is detected earlier on and doctors say that anyone suffering symptoms such as fever, aching muscles, dizziness, neck pain or stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light should contact the nearest hospital.
“We are fully prepared to treat this disease,” says Wahidullah Mayar, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Health. “But people are not so aware of the virus or its symptoms. The best way to stop this disease is for people to be proactive and visit medical centres quickly if they think they have been exposed.”
Mayar said that about 35 suspected cases have been registered since the beginning of the year. So far most of these have not been fatal.
One of the best places to tackle the disease in Afghanistan is at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kabul.
Saleh Gul Qand, 19, is one the latest patients to recover from the Congo virus here. His father, Musom, tells Afghanistan Today how he tried everything to help his son before bringing him here.
Musom says they even traveled to Pakistan for treatment, spending a lot of money at each of the hospitals there. But his son didn't get any better.
“They treated us very badly,” Musom says. “When the test results came in, they would tell me to get my son out of the hospital in case other patients got the virus too.”
About to give up on Pakistan and go to India, a friend told Musom about the infectious diseases specialists in Kabul. After just over two weeks, Musom's son was back on his feet again.
Musom says he sacrificed an ox to treat the doctors from the hospital and to thank them for saving his son.
Dealing with diseases like this is no easy task. The doctors here do not have the appropriate equipment to protect themselves against viruses like this either, notes Abdul Rahman Akbari , a doctor and the director of the Infectious Diseases Hospital.
To treat Musom's son, doctors wore old protective suits that were left over from an influenza outbreak several years ago. Additionally, he says, the doctors and staff dealing with the case didn't have any specialized knowledge about the Congo virus; they learned about it only a few days beforehand.
The Ministry of Public Health is currently undertaking a campaign to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms, says Mayar.
“Outbreaks like this don't happen so often in Afghanistan but whenever they do, we are prepared,” he says. “We have trained medical staff to better deal with these outbreaks in the past and we will do so now and in the future too.”