The Strong Food program provides families with Strong Food paste, a combination of flour, sugar, vegetable oil and essential vitamins that is mixed with water to nourish children.
The Clean Water program ensures the water used in conjunction with Strong Food is clean by running it through ionizers. More than 300 patients in Sharana, Paktika’s capital city, are currently registered with Strong Food, while nearly 200 are registered with Clean Water.
Although the programs were initiated by the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team, they are managed by Afghans.
“We started this program one year and three months ago,” said Dr. Baaz Mahmmadi, the contractor for Strong Food and Clean Water in Sharana, Paktika’s capital city.
Mahmmadi explained that the program began in the Orgun and Sharana districts, followed by the Sar Hawza, Mata Khan and Sarobi districts.
“We also have Clean Water in Gomal because their water is not good and has a lot of bacteria because people use the water from streams,” he said.
The doctor demonstrated how he weighs and measures babies enrolled in the program. The age, weight and height of each baby is recorded and then re-recorded at subsequent visits in order to monitor progress. The PRT medical officer, U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Tamora Holland, who calls Pittsburgh home, works with Mahmmadi on a regular basis to ensure the programs are on track.
“I’m here once a month to come and taste the food and inspect the process,” Holland said. “Just as in any country, health is an important part of Afghanistan. There are many children who have died being here just from food and water alone.”
Holland explained that the Afghan ministry of public health is making these health issues a priority right now.
“Although they are trying very hard, Afghanistan is having a hard time implementing this into their own medical system,” she said. “In the mean time, they don’t want any more of their people to suffer.”
Strong Food is intended for children age five and under, as well as for lactating mothers as needed. However, those who qualify for Strong Food must be stable and meet specific criteria.
“The guidelines require patients to be seen by a medical doctor who takes their height, weight and blood samples,” Holland said. “If they are more than two to three deviations of the normal height and weight per World Health Organization guidelines, then they meet criteria for Strong Food as long as they’re stable.”
Holland explained that the patients are not considered stable if they are not able to eat and hold down food. In this case, they are admitted as inpatients to the Sharana Hospital. However, if patients are stable despite showing signs of anemia, dehydration or edema, they can be seen on an outpatient basis, she said.
The yellow Strong Food powder comes in individual plastic bags that the families can take home and mix with water to form the Strong Food paste. According to Holland, the water mixed with the powder is just as important as the powder itself. As for the Clean Water program, Holland explained that water essentially becomes a hypo-chlorite solution, which is basically bleach, after running it through an ionizer with table salt.
“It’s safe to consume when diluted,” Holland said. “That’s why they get the small bottles of concentrate and add only 10 milliliters to the water they acquire from the wadis and wells for consumption. It makes the water clean and perfectly safe.
“The program is really good as far as addressing nutrition, but it’s also very good for the community in general,” Holland explained. “All the supplies are obtained locally. This helps the local vendors, which helps the economy and also gives jobs to the local people as well. It also makes them feel like they are giving back and participating in building their own system of healthcare.”
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