COVID-19 response in Afghanistan: fears of a humanitarian disaster

Travelers have their temperature taken before entering Kabul airport, March 16, 2020 Travelers have their temperature taken before entering Kabul airport, March 16, 2020 Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times

02 June 2020

As the pandemic’s official figures keep mounting, NGOs and government officials warn that a much higher number of potential cases is going untested

In May alone, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), confirmed COVID-19 cases grew by 684% but many more potential infections went undetected. As reported by Reuters, the official figures released by Afghanistan’s health authorities were relatively low, with 16,509 confirmed cases and 270 deaths. So far, only 40,950 tests have been processed, over a population of around 37 million people.

As the Deputy Health Minister Feda Mohammad Paikan told Reuters, each day the ministry is able to process between 1,300 and 1,500 of around 20,000 samples received. Among those processed, more than 30% are consistently testing positive, suggesting that the pandemic’s magnitude goes well beyond official figures.  As reported by Vicki Aken, IRC country director, the COVID-19 outbreak is worsening the already dire living conditions of the Afghani population: levels of violence against women and children are increasing; almost 11 million people are facing severe food insecurity; and women are expected to suffer the most from increased economic hardship. Moreover, despite the ongoing peace negotiations, attacks on health facilities and civilian targets continue, leaving dozens of casualties and further diminishing healthcare capacities. As confirmed COVID-19 cases keep growing after two months of restrictions, national authorities have recently reopened businesses urging people to respect safety protocols.

According to a 2019 government report, Afghanistan has 172 hospitals and four medical doctors per 10,000 people. As it appears in the statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), only 38% of the Afghani population has access to handwashing facilities with water and soap. In order to prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe, the IRC is urging the international community to help Afghanistan to improve its testing capacities and to increase funding for frontline responders.


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Author: Ester Zangrandi

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