Former Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar recently completed a study (published in Dari) indicating that rising numbers of women and girls aged 15-40 are attempting suicide in Afghanistan. His findings were presented at a news conference in Kabul on 31 July.
The study, based on Health Ministry records and hospital reports, said an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide annually - mainly due to mental illness, domestic violence and/or socio-economic hardship. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar, currently a health adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
Social disorder, loss of loved ones, displacement, food insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, drug addiction, and lack of access to healthcare services - all caused or aggravated by over three decades of war - also played their part, said Kakar.
Kakar says about 1.8 million women and girls in the 15-40 age bracket have “severe depression”.
His findings have not been confirmed by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) or the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA): A gender-based violence database maintained by MoWA has recorded over 1,900 cases of violence against women and only 37 suicides in the past two years, but it is based on reported cases only and is therefore assumed to underestimate the true situation.
There are indications from other sources, however, which back up Kakar’s thesis.
The number of patients seeking treatment at a mental diseases hospital managed by the NGO International Assistance Mission (IAM) in the western province of Herat has been rising steadily over the past few years.
“We receive about 50 patients every day,” said Khadim Hussain Rahimi, an official at the hospital, adding that the number was significantly higher than in 2000 when the hospital was opened.
Also, of the over 100 cases of self-immolation registered at the burns ward of Herat City Hospital over the past 15 months, 76 had died, officials said.
“A lot of the women who commit self-immolation or suicide suffer from mental disorder,” said Mohammad Arif Jalali, head of the hospital’s burns ward.
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