Health facilities have shut down for lack essential medical supplies and funds to pay for utilities and salaries.
Aid groups have sounded an upcoming health emergency in Afghanistan, warning that the country’s fragile health system will get stretched as rising COVID-19 infections compete with an alarming outbreak of measles in the impoverished, war-torn country.
This warning comes as a new wave of COVID-19 is surging across Afghanistan. It has prompted an urge for global support to curb the virus from humanitarian organisations. According to the World Health organisation, there have been over 172,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 7,500 deaths in Afghanistan since 3 January 2020.
The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) on Wednesday called for worldwide support for treatment and testing services, as well as for vaccinations to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“A new wave is hitting Afghanistan hard,” the IFRC said in a statement. “Testing is inadequate, and the World Health Organization reports that almost half of tested samples are coming back positive, indicating an alarming spread of the virus.”
With only 10 per cent of people fully vaccinated according to Our World in Data, the country’s fragile health system is struggling to cope with the surge in COVID-19 infections after dozens of COVID-19 health facilities were forced to close due to lack of medicines, essential medical supplies, and a lack of funds to pay for utilities and salaries of health workers.
Impact of sanctions
“Fewer than 10 of the country’s 37 public COVID-19 health facilities remain functional,” the IFRC statement reads, adding, “they are unable to keep up with demand.”
The Red Cross in Afghanistan is ramping up services at its health clinics across Afghanistan and its COVID-19 hospital in Kabul while supporting nationwide vaccination efforts for preventing the spread of the disease.
Mawlawi Mutiul Haq Khales, the organisation’s president in Afghanistan, has said that the number of COVID-19 infections is increasing with its spread from cities to remote corners of the country. “The international community needs to open up the doors to support critical healthcare, testing and other essential services before it’s too late for the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
“It is vital to increase the number of functional COVID-19 health facilities so that pressure can be eased on the few functioning hospitals.”
International sanctions have severed hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that is critical for maintaining the country’s health care system, including forcing the closure of dozens of COVID-19 case management facilities.
Compounding the health crisis, a measles outbreak has infected thousands and killed dozens of people last month alone in Afghanistan.
The simultaneous outbreak of measles has made matters worse. As the International Red Cross’ Necephor Mghendi says, “The measles outbreak is alarming since Afghanistan is in the middle of one of the worst droughts and food crises in decades, leaving children malnourished and far more vulnerable to the highly contagious disease.”
Measles is endemic in Afghanistan and the WHO voiced its concern over the sharp rise in measles cases in the country. It said that the number of cases of measles and deaths caused by measles among increased by 18 per cent during the last week of January. The number of cases swelled in the first week of February to 40 per cent, the WHO had said.
The IFRC is urgently appealing for about US$ 70 million to support the Afghanistan’s health services and emergency relief and provide assistance to more than 1 million people in the country.
Image: Afghanistan Red Crescent medical teams have ramped up their work to provide primary health care services in remote districts across Afghanistan – ARCS