Afghanistan is on the edge of potential health, social and economic catastrophes caused by COVID-19 as the disease places a crippling burden on one of the ten most fragile states in the world.
More than 34,000 people have been infected by COVID-19 in Afghanistan and nearly 1,000 people have died, with hospitals and health clinics pushed to the limit.
The real toll of the pandemic on the Afghan population is expected to be much higher and remains under-reported due to limited testing and weak health systems. The country has one doctor for every 3,500 people, less than a fifth of the global average according to the World Health Organization.
War-torn Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the Asia Pacific and the region’s most disaster-prone country with at least 3.5 million people displaced by armed conflict and disasters since 2012.
Dr Nilab Mobarez, Secretary General of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said:“COVID-19 is placing enormous strain on our resilient yet fragile communities.”
Since the first confirmed case, in February, Afghan Red Crescent has mounted a country-wide response to protect people from COVID-19 and provide humanitarian support, However, the response has been hindered by a shortage of personal protective equipment.
“So far, drawing with our own resources and with Red Cross Red Crescent partners, 300,000 people have been screened for illness and 1.2 million people at risk have been supported with critical awareness information to prevent the spread of this disease”.
“A major shortage of personal protective equipment in Afghanistan has been our main challenge, as we balance safety for our staff and volunteers while mounting a full response to COVID-19 across Afghanistan,” said Dr Mobarez.
“Afghanistan has been reaching a peak of infections and we fear this will continue over coming weeks. We are urgently scaling up our response with 39 mobile health teams, 31 immunization teams, 46 health clinics and more than 4,000 trained community volunteers to intensify case detection.
“Our priority is enabling communities to take protective measures for themselves and their families, including in hard-to-reach and unsafe areas. We have also rehabilitated our district hospital in Kabul to become a fully equipped COVID-hospital,” said Dr Mobarez.
In addition to the COVID-19 health crisis faced in Afghanistan, the socio-economic impact of the virus could become catastrophic with 12.4 million people – one third of the country’s population - already considered to be living at “emergency” levels of food shortages.
Pierre Kremer, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office in Afghanistan, said: “Millions of people who depend on a daily wage have lost their jobs and COVID-19 is compounding this struggle to survive. The people of Afghanistan face a double catastrophe of the COVID-19 health crisis and mass socio-economic deterioration. We have a duty to step up to prevent this from happening.”
“We are intensifying support to people’s livelihoods on a large scale to help people strengthen their resilience to these compounding crises,” Mr Kremer said.
Afghanistan Red Crescent has assisted more than 90,000 people with food and other relief packages and is committed to reach at least 450,000 people with food or cash support.
“With the support of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other external partners, we need to rapidly expand response to these crises across the country. This is a race that urgently requires more resources linking emergency, development and peace efforts,” said Dr Nilab Mobarez.
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In Kabul: Pierre Kremer, Head of Afghanistan Country Office, IFRC, firstname.lastname@example.org