January 15, 2008 / 8:38 PM / 12 years ago

Big cut in Afghan TB cases shows aid works: Canada

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of Afghans dying from tuberculosis has fallen by half in recent months, a statistic that shows Canada’s efforts to help fight the disease are working, officials said on Tuesday.

Ottawa is keen to show signs of progress in Afghanistan, particularly since critics accuse Canada of focusing too much effort on fighting the Taliban and not enough on development and reconstruction.

The World Health Organization and Afghanistan’s public health ministry said last week that people were dying from tuberculosis at the rate of 10,000 a year, down from 20,000 a year a few months earlier.

Canada is working with the WHO and the World Food Program on a campaign to combat the disease.

“You are starting to see far more people now benefiting from treatment early on,” a government official told a news conference.

The full course of treatment to fight tuberculosis lasts eight months and the WFP is offering patients food and heating oil in a bid to ensure they do not back out.

“(This campaign) takes the partnership and support of a whole range of players ... we’re starting to see real payoffs in this specific area,” the official said.

More than 80 percent of Afghans now have access to basic medical services, compared with 9 percent after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he added.

Canada has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. A soldier died in a mine blast on Tuesday, the 77th member of the armed forces to die in the country since 2002.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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