By Army Staff Sgt. Marcos Alices
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 14, 2009 - The international community has introduced programs to combat malnourishment and bacteria and parasites in the water here in an effort to improve the quality of life for local residents, particularly children. Strong Food, a program that provides an inexpensive food source for starving children, and Clean Water, a process to provide Afghans a means to clean their water, are achieving promising results.
"It is a great success," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Paul Herrera-Ramirez, a medical technician for the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, a civil and military organization meant to bring reconstruction, development, governance and security to the province. "As parents, we all have something in common: our children. We all care about our children's health."
Afghanistan's Public Health Ministry organized these programs with the reconstruction team's help to tackle the most common causes of death among children. The leading threats to Afghan children under age 5 are death at birth, diarrhea and starvation, officials said. Ministry and reconstruction team officials sought solutions that would be effective and sustainable with local resources, Herrera-Ramirez explained. "The best benefit of all is the ingredients can be purchased at the local bazaar," he said.
Strong Food is a food supplement made up of almonds, sugar, powdered milk, liquid vitamin supplements and vegetable oil. The almonds are ground into a powder and mixed with the other ingredients to create a paste. The paste doesn't have to be refrigerated and can be stored at room temperature for up to four months before spoiling. Strong Food is prepared and distributed to Afghanistan's districts through the provincial hospital in Qalat City, Zabul's capital.
Strong Food is an example of ready-to-use therapeutic food, a type of medical food that can address malnutrition at earlier stages. The medical food's main purpose is to increase children's weight and appetite.
"The children love the taste of Strong Food, and the providers see dramatic success," said Air Force Maj. Elizabeth A. Erickson, the team's senior medical officer.
Medical providers also use the Clean Water program to care for their patients. The program aims to stop diarrheal and dysentery diseases caused by bacteria and parasites found in local water. Diarrhea and dysentery are the most common ailments in Zabul. A simple and safe method of local chlorine production makes it possible to serve the needs of more than 5,000 Afghans.
The chlorine production starts with a hypochlorite generator, solar panels and table salt. The generator converts table salt into a dilute hypochlorite solution that is bottled and distributed to locals. A tablespoon of the solution in a four-gallon container can kill 99 percent of bacteria. It is harmless if not diluted.
"It's hard. [We are turning] a culture away from a source of water that they have been using for hundreds of years," Herrera-Ramirez said, "but once they learn the benefits of Clean Water, they cling on to the program."
Both programs are slated to expand throughout the province.
(Army Staff Sgt. Marcos Alices serves in the Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan public affairs office.)