Afghan health system “on the brink of collapse”, WHO warns

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In this photo taken on March 20, 2019, an Afghan health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child in Kandahar province.

Javed Tanveer | TBEN | Getty Images

The Afghan health system is “on the verge of collapse” as lack of funding has prevented thousands of health facilities from purchasing medical supplies and paying their staff, the World Organization said on Wednesday. health.

“Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an impending humanitarian catastrophe,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari in a statement following a visit to Kabul, the Afghan 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 has frozen its Afghan financial assets.

WHO said cutbacks in donations to Afghanistan’s largest health project, Sehatmandi, left health facilities without drugs, medical supplies, fuel and salaries for medical staff.

Sehatmandi is the main source of healthcare in the country – it operates 2,309 medical facilities across Afghanistan that have benefited more than 30 million people in 2020.

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“Many of these facilities have now downsized or closed, forcing healthcare providers to make tough decisions about who to save and who to let die,” the statement said, noting that only 17% of facilities were fully functional.

Response to Covid-19

Problems in the Afghan health system have affected the country’s response to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“Nine of the 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.

Vaccination rates against Covid have “declined rapidly” in recent weeks, while 1.8 million doses of vaccine have gone unused, the statement said.

Members of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) tag the shipment containing Astrazeneca Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines donated by the French government after arriving at Kabul airport on August 8, 2021.

Wakil Kohsar | TBEN | Getty Images

Other emergencies

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. Wild poliovirus cases have fallen to just one this year from 56 in 2020, but efforts to eradicate the disease will suffer from challenges facing the Afghan health system, the WHO said.

Meanwhile, measles epidemics are spreading in Afghanistan, the agency added.

The United Nations announced on Wednesday that it was releasing $ 45 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to “help prevent the collapse of the Afghan health system.”

“Allowing the Afghan health care delivery system to collapse would be catastrophic. People across the country would be denied access to primary health care such as emergency Caesarean sections and trauma care, ”said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. and emergency relief coordinator.

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Impact on women

The problems of the Afghan health system represent a particular risk for the women of the country.

With fewer operating health facilities and fewer female medical staff commuting to work, patients are reluctant to see a doctor, the WHO said.

While women in the public health sector have been urged to return to work, many are understandably afraid of dealing with Taliban militants, especially now that there is no system of government in place to offer them any protection. .

Samira Hamidi

Humanitarian Campaign Officer, Amnesty International

Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International activist for South Asia, said the country’s women do not feel safe because they do not trust the Taliban.

“While women in the public health sector have been urged to return to work, many are understandably afraid of dealing with Taliban militants, especially now that there is no system of government in place to offer them any protection, ”she told TBEN.

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