Kabul (ICRC) – The recent rise in violence in Afghanistan, combined with targeted attacks against healthcare facilities, threatens to reduce or prevent access to health services for millions of Afghans, who need health services more than ever with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“The recent trajectory in Afghanistan is of great concern. After the hope brought by a relative reduction in hostilities in February and March, we again see more violence. Civilian casualties are on the rise while the country is battling against COVID-19,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, like many war-torn countries, has an overstretched health system that is challenged by limited coverage in conflict-affected areas, poor specialised healthcare and now the outbreak of COVID-19. Attacks against health staff or health facilities, such as the deadly assault in May against the MSF-supported maternity hospital in Kabul, only exacerbate the situation.
“COVID-19 has challenged the world’s most advanced nations. A country where gunmen attack a hospital stands no chance at providing quality care. We see it in health facilities in conflict-affected areas and in prisons, where people have already limited access to healthcare,” Schaerer said.
One hospital for six million people
In Afghanistan’s largest hospital, Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar, which the ICRC has supported for over 20 years, the staff continue to provide obstetric care and surgery for people wounded in war. Due to an increase in COVID cases, the hospital now operates at a reduced capacity despite the near-usual rates of patients wounded in fighting and child deliveries.
It is the only regional hospital servicing the approximately six million people in southern Afghanistan. Many of the patients, especially in the surgical ward, come from areas where fighting between the Taliban and government forces continues.
Worryingly, a substantial number of COVID-19 cases in the country are health personnel, which puts more strain on the entire system. Mirwais hospital regularly faces a shortage of masks and handrub as the outbreak disrupts logistics pipelines. Blood donations have also decreased but the need for blood has not.
“There are some challenges like the supply pipeline that the ICRC can help with,” said Erin O’Connor, ICRC’s Mirwais hospital project manager. “But getting donors to come to give blood amid COVID-19 is more challenging.”
The fight against COVID-19 needs commitment from all parties to the conflict. The ICRC calls to protect medical missions and strengthen healthcare systems in places like detention facilities, where such links are the weakest.
“We battle a worldwide enemy and need a countrywide agreement on how to address COVID-19,” Scharer said. “As a start, full respect of international humanitarian law by all parties, without exception, is needed to protect civilians in Afghanistan.”
Movement response to COVID-19 outbreak
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan, the ICRC together with the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement partners:
• Support the Kabul District Hospital of the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) with training, infection control, hygiene and patient care protocols, material equipment and the long-term infrastructure upgrade of electricity, water and sanitation, and waste management facilities.
• Provided 12 field hospitals and first responders with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and advised on surgical recommendations for the staff to operate safely in a COVID-19 environment.
• In detention places, donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), contact-free thermometers, medical items and hygiene items such as chlorine, soap and detergents, and installed hand washing basins besides rebuilding and rehabilitated isolation rooms, and works to improve ventilation.
• Distributed hygiene item in our seven Physical Rehabilitation Centers in Afghanistan to reinforce preventive measures against COVID where thousands of people with disabilities are assisted.
For further information, please contact:
Roya Musawi, spokesperson, ICRC Afghanistan, Tel.: +93 794 618 908, firstname.lastname@example.org
Omarsharif Ghyasy, head of communication, ICRC Afghanistan, Tel.: +44 793 298 1946, email@example.com