Outbreak of Scurvy Confirmed in Northern Afghanistan

MSF Calls on World Food Program to Provide Balanced Diet

Faryab, Afghanistan, May 25, 2001 — Physicians from the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have clinically confirmed an outbreak of scurvy in Faryab province, northern Afghanistan. Scurvy, which is caused by the lack of vitamin C in the diet, leads to black discoloration of the legs, gum bleeding, and eventually death.

"This disease should not exist in the 21st century, but the people in this area have been living on a diet of bread and tea for months now. There was a poor harvest in 1999, and last year the drought led to a total crop failure. Then of course you have the huge displacement problem brought on by two decades of war. The truth is that people's traditional 'coping mechanisms' have been stretched to the limit over the last four years - they simply have nothing left," explains Stephan Goedgebuur, MSF's project co-ordinator in the region.

On the MSF team's first assessment tour of the province, 34 villages were visited (1,920 families), and 117 cases of scurvy were detected - two of which were fatal. A second tour covered 52 villages, and found a total of 226 cases of scurvy (67.7% female). New cases were recently confirmed in Charkent, south of Mazar-i-Sharif.

MSF distributed vitamin C supplements to several thousand families but this is not enough. The teams discovered that the vegetable that normally provides the vitamin-content in the local diet is in short supply because of the drought. The next harvest does not look promising and the MSF field teams are concerned that this scurvy outbreak is indicative of a wider nutritional crisis in the area. MSF calls upon the World Food Program (WFP) to start distributing food fortified with vitamins to the whole population.