In this photo taken on March 20, 2019, an Afghan health worker administers a polio vaccine for a child in Kandahar province.
Javed Tanveer | AFP | Getty Images
Afghanistan’s health system is “on the verge of collapse” as lack of funding left thousands of health facilities struggling to buy medical supplies and pay their staff, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
“Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari said in a statement following a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
The Taliban, an ultra-conservative militant group, seized power in Afghanistan last month as the United States withdrew its military presence in the country. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international funding, but many donors have suspended aid to the country while the United States froze its Afghan financial assets.
The WHO said reduced donations to Afghanistan’s largest health project, Sehatmandi, left health facilities without medicine, medical supplies, fuel and salaries for doctors.
Sehatmandi is the main source of healthcare in the country – it operates 2,309 medical facilities across Afghanistan, benefiting over 30 million people by 2020.
“Many of these facilities have now reduced operations or closed down, forcing healthcare providers to make difficult decisions about who to save and who to let die,” the statement said, noting that only 17% of the facilities were fully functional.
Problems with Afghanistan’s health system have affected the country’s response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“Nine out of 37 COVID-19 hospitals have already closed and all aspects of the COVID-19 response have declined, including surveillance, testing and vaccination,” the WHO said.
Covid vaccination rates have “dropped rapidly” in recent weeks, while 1.8 million vaccine doses remained unused, according to the statement.
Members of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) label the shipment containing Astrazeneca Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines donated by the French government after it arrived at Kabul airport in Kabul on August 8, 2021.
Deputy Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images
“Rapid action is needed to use these doses in the coming weeks and work towards achieving the goal of vaccinating at least 20% of the population by the end of the year based on national targets,” the WHO said.
Only about 1.1% of the Afghan population has been fully vaccinated, according to the latest data collected by the online repository Our World in Data.
In addition to Covid, Afghanistan faces other health emergencies, the WHO said.
The country is one of only two in the world where polio is still prevalent, the agency said. Cases of wild poliovirus cases have dropped to just one this year from 56 in 2020, but efforts to eradicate the disease will suffer due to problems facing the Afghan health system, the WHO explained.
Meanwhile, measles outbreaks are spreading in Afghanistan, the agency added.
The United Nations said Wednesday it is releasing $ 45 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to “help prevent Afghanistan’s health system from collapsing.”
“Dismissing Afghanistan’s health care system would be disastrous. People across the country would be denied access to primary health care such as emergency caesareans and trauma treatment,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. and emergency coordinator.
Impact on women
Problems in Afghanistan’s health system pose a particular risk to women in the country.
With fewer health facilities in operation and fewer female doctors reporting for work, female patients are hesitant to seek medical attention, the WHO said.
Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s campaigner for South Asia, said women in the country feel insecure as they do not trust the Taliban.
“While women in the public health sector have been asked to return to their jobs, many are understandably afraid to deal with Taliban militants, especially now that there is no operating system in place to offer them any protection,” she said. to CNBC.