Children with pneumonia fill Kabul hospital ward

STORY: In bitterly cold Kabul, Maryam tries to keep her bundled-up baby son warm.

Ten-month-old Rahmat has been discharged from hospital for the third time for suspected pneumonia.

His parents spend what they can from their shrinking income on heating the room he sleeps in, which his mother Maryam says drops below freezing at night.

"This is the beginning of the winter season. My room is so cold that my child gets sick a lot. I’m worried about how to get through the winter. Even the doctors told me to keep my child warm at home."

They are among many families in Afghanistan unable to afford adequate heating as an economic crisis grips the country.

In the hospital's pneumonia ward, babies lie two or three to a bed, watched over by worried parents and a handful of overstretched medical staff.

Doctors and aid workers say thousands of children are being admitted with pneumonia and other respiratory diseases caused by the cold and malnutrition.

Mohammad Arif Hassanzai, head of internal medicine:

"There are causes of pneumonia throughout the year, and unfortunately, the cold weather increases the chance of contracting this disease, and also the polluted air is another cause of this disease. The children of those who are in a poor economic condition, cannot heat their homes properly, cannot provide warm clothes or vaccinate their children are more likely to get this disease."

The crisis is likely to get worse, aid workers say.

The ruling Taliban has banned female NGO workers, leading more than 180 international organizations to suspend operations in the crucial winter months.

They say they can't to operate in the conservative country without female staff to reach out to women and children.