‘On the brink of collapse’: WHO on health system in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, calls for ‘urgent action’

Written by Srivatsan K C | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sep 22, 2021 04:30 PM IST

“Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe,” a statement from the WHO chief said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said that the health system in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is on the “brink of collapse” and a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent in the country unless urgent action is taken.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during his visit to Afghanistan.(Twitter/@WHO)
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during his visit to Afghanistan.(Twitter/@WHO)

The UN health body’s comments came after a recent high-level visit by its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the regional director for WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional office (WHO-EMRO) Ahmed Al-Mandhari to Afghanistan.

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“We recently completed a high-level mission to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we met with senior members of the Taliban leadership, UN partners, health care workers and patients, and WHO staff,” a statement from the WHO chief said. “Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. Our visit allowed us to witness the immediate needs of the Afghan people first-hand and meet with stakeholders to define ways to urgently scale up our health response,” it added.

Cuts in donor support to Sehetmandi health project

Noting that the lack of donor support to the country’s largest health project Sehetmandi, the WHO chief said that thousands of health facilities have been left without funding for medical supplies and salaries for health staff. Also, many such facilities have either shut down or reduced operations.

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“Only 17% of all Sehatmandi health facilities are now fully functional. This breakdown in health services is having a rippling effect on the availability of basic and essential health care, as well as on emergency response, polio eradication, and Covid-19 vaccination efforts,” the statement showed.

Response to Covid-19 pandemic dropped

The WHO further said that nine out of the 37 Covid-19 hospitals in the country have closed and surveillance, testing and vaccinations against the disease have dropped.

“In recent weeks, vaccination rates have decreased rapidly while 1.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the country remain unused,” it said. It also called for swift action to achieve the national target of immunizing at least 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

Polio remains endemic

In its statement, the WHO also said that Afghanistan remains one of two countries where polio is endemic. While there were 56 cases of wild poliovirus reported in 2020, this year only one such case has been reported.

“There has never been a better time to eradicate polio. However, the polio programme will struggle to respond if the basic immunization infrastructure begins to collapse around it,” the WHO noted.

It also offered to begin a country-wide, house-to-house polio vaccination campaign and also include measles and Covid-19 vaccinations in an integrated campaign, along with its partners.

Assuring its investment in the health education of girls and women, the WHO said it would continue to support an extensive trauma programme including supplies for 130 hospitals and 67 blood banks in the country.

Following the Taliban takeover, several news reports emerged of the militant group shutting healthcare facilities. In one instance, the Taliban banned the administration of Covid-19 jabs in Paktia province, earlier in August.

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