The World Health Organization (WHO) concerned about worsening access to provide life-saving medicines and supplies in Afghanistan
With an escalating violent conflict, a Covid-19 pandemic that continues to spread and a natural disaster in a recently declared drought, the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are unfolding in the context of one of the largest and longest-standing humanitarian emergencies, the World Health Organization said.
Speaking today at a UN briefing in Geneva, Dr Rick Brennan, Regional Emergencies Director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office informed that “the health consequences of all these concurrent emergencies are grave. The worst thing is that the security situation has been associated with a sharp increase of civilian trauma cases. Already during the first quarter of 2021 there has been a 29 percent increase in civilian casualties compared to the same period last year”.
According to WHO, during the past week 56 civilians have been killed and 725 injured.
“Last week there were 14 mass casualty incidents presenting to the five regional hospitals. You can imagine being a health care worker in the emergency department receiving a large number of patients at one time with complex war injuries”, Dr. Brennan said. He added that “it puts an enormous psychological and physical strain on the health workers and really an added burden to an already strained health system”.
Moreover, this year there have been 30 attacks on health care across Afghanistan, including the destruction of an immunization centre last month and a reported artillery attack on a health centre in Kunar province 2 days ago.
WHO is concerned about access to provide life-saving medicines in Afghanistan and attacks on health care facilities, as Afghan forces fight Taliban insurgents.
“Taliban are asking through indirect means and informally for support for the continuity of health services in the areas that they are taking”, the WHO’s top official said. “So, I hope that there will be some stability and that we will be able to steady the ship if you like and continue to provide the essential health services”.
Over 3,5 million doses of vaccines are expected in the coming weeks in Afghanistan. So far, the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out is proceeding slowly. To date close to 934,500 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Just under 200,000 people have received their second dose of the vaccine.
“The COVID pandemic provides another layer of complexity to one of our most challenging humanitarian emergencies”, reported Dr. Brennan. “Afghanistan is now in the midst of its third and largest wave of COVID cases with the most recent escalation peaking towards the end of June. Today they are been over 131,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,500 deaths due to COVID since the start of the pandemic”.
WHO, together with the Ministry of Health and other partners, has been scaling up their response to this complex array of needs. Over 80 tons of emergency medical supplies were delivered to major hospitals and public health directorates, including essential medicines, trauma kits and cholera kits. 500 oxygen concentrators will also soon arrive.
An international WHO team of 3 trauma experts recently trained staff from 5 referral hospitals on mass casualty management and continue to provide remote training and technical support.
“We have heard of health staff leaving the health facilities, but already starting to come back to their posts. And it’s hard to maintain a clear picture across the country with such a fast-moving situation. So, I think it is a mixed picture right now but we are clearly concerned of a decline in the access to health care”.
At the beginning of 2021, 18.4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan representing the 4th largest humanitarian caseload globally. This was a 32 % increase from 2020.