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Exhausted health workers battling pandemic in Afghanistan

April 22nd, 2020
topic:Health and Sanitation
by:Shadi Khan Saif
located in:Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran
tags:Coronavirus, COVID-19, health system, insurgency, public healthcare

Exhausted health workers battling coronavirus pandemic in Afghanistan’s frontline province of Herat bordering regional hub of the COVID-19, Iran, walk a thin line between acute shortages of resources and an alarming rise in patients.

As more and more patients with suspected signs of infection flood the main public health facility in Herat, it ran out of the most basic resources of testing them for the virus. The pandemic has revealed just how fragile the country’s health system is.

Head of the Public Healthcare Directorate, Abdul Hakim, told FairPlanet that the facility had to halt testing of patients as the resources such as RNA Extractors were not available. Even the Ministry of Public Health was facing a shortage of experimental instruments, which were provided only by the World Health Organisation.

There was evident panic here that Afghanistan could fall apart. In the wake of mounting numbers of suspected cases, any further delay in delivery of these resources as well as corresponding support for the worn out health workers would be devastating. 

Relying heavily on foreign aid, Afghanistan is facing this gargantuan challenge on top of the deadly insurgency in its 19th year and a grim political crisis stemming from troubled presidential elections held in September 2019.

Hospital break-out 

In the early days of pandemic here, at least 37 patients thought to be suffering from the novel coronavirus fled from the health facility after beating up staff members. According to the Afghan Health Ministry, all those involved in the hospital break-out had recently returned from Iran.

The local media reports indicated that as dejected refugees deported by Iran got frustrated with the delays at the testing facilities, some of them with support from their friends and relatives started shouting and breaking window glasses to break free.

As per the International Organisation of Migration report, spontaneous returns of Afghan refugees from Iran have reached a new record. It said a total of 53,069 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran through the Milak (Nimroz) and Herat (Islam Qala) borders between 08-14 March representing a 171% increase. 

It also stated that since 01 January 2020, the total number of undocumented returnees from Iran is 136,186, including unaccompanied migrant children, single parent families, people with disabilities and elders. 

Health workers faced similar helplessness in Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan this month when an estimated 10,000 stranded Afghans flooded the main Torkham crossing point between the two countries, defying all immigration and social-distancing measures in the wake of the pandemic.

Sharing concerns over the spread over of coronavirus across the country, Health Ministry spokesman, Waheedullah Mayar said the situation has now become an Afghan epidemic. “No place is safe now, the virus is now spreading domestically from one person to another”, he said. 

Emphasising the need of international support and solidarity, Mayar added that the local population too need to acknowledge and respect the sacrifices of hardworking health workers.The war-ravaged country’s nascent private healthcare system is struggling with the uphill battle against the COVID-19. Last week, a doctor at one of the capital Kabul’s premier private clinics died of the virus forcing health authorities to seal the facility.

After confirming the first case of the virus on Feb. 24, Afghan authorities have confirmed close to 500 cases by early April including at least 15 health workers from the frontline province of Herat.

Article written by:
Shadi-Khan-Saif-1
Shadi Khan Saif
Author, Contributing Editor
Afghanistan Pakistan Iran
In the early days of pandemic here, at least 37 patients thought to be suffering from the novel coronavirus fled from the health facility after beating up staff members.
“No place is safe now, the virus is now spreading domestically from one person to another”