width=460Afghanistan sees 60 percent jump in respiratory infections * Pandemic flu straining health care system * Country set to be among first to receive donated vaccine

GENEVA (Reuters) - Afghanistan has seen a 60 percent increase in the number of respiratory ailments this winter, with H1N1 flu adding pressure on a medical system already weakened by the war, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The current winter season is of great concern to health providers, Peter Graaff, the WHO representative in Afghanistan, told a news briefing in Geneva.

He said the pandemic virus was spreading at the community level in 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, with a resultant jump in the official number of acute respiratory infections.

The government has confirmed more than 942 cases but this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg when you consider the weak lab capacity in the country, and the government is confirming only severe cases, Graaff said.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia are the first three countries which are to receive doses of pandemic vaccine in the next few weeks, the WHO said on Thursday. The U.N. agency plans to send vaccines donated by drug makers and governments to 95 poor countries in all.

The country, where Taliban fighters have been battling U.S. and NATO forces since late 2001, lacks maternal and child health services as well as basic surgical care, especially in conflict-affected areas, Graaff said.

More than 150,000 infants die each year in Afghanistan and two women die every hour from complications linked to pregnancy and delivery.

Pandemic is an additional burden for the health system in general, Graaff said, while noting that polio vaccinations reached 95 percent of children even in insecure districts in the second half of 2009 in southern Afghanistan.

The WHO this week began using a new vaccine that targets both types of circulating polio in Afghanistan in its effort to eradicate the crippling disease that remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

The bivalent oral polio vaccine, known as bOPV, is made by GlaxoSmithKline and four other drug manufacturers are expected to be licensed for it.