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A hospital ward in Afghanistan.

People receive medical treatment at a local hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 27, 2021, after a bombing near Kabul's airport. (Photo: Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Aid Groups Warn Afghan Health System on Verge of 'Collapse'

"Urgent international action is needed to support millions of people with the necessities of life through the coming months and Afghanistan's harsh winter," said head of the Afghan Red Crescent.

Julia Conley

International aid agencies working in Afghanistan are sounding the alarm over a health system at "risk of collapse" as Western financial support to the war-torn nation was slashed following the Taliban's return to power last month.
 
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Monday said $200 million is urgently needed to help provide essential health services to 3.4 million people, as well as food assistance, the treatment of malnutrition, and sanitation and hygiene aid.

"When we hear messages from the World Bank—whether they say that they have put our funds on hold, or they've frozen them—what that means to me is 3,700 health facilities will collapse. That the health of 35 million people will collapse."
—Dr. Wahid Majrooh, Public Health Minister

 
The urgent funding call was made in addition to an appeal for $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid that was made at the end of last year, which, as Al Jazeera reported, "remains severely underfunded."
 
The World Bank announced last month that it would halt all aid to Afghanistan as a way of sanctioning the Taliban, but as Public Health Minister Dr. Wahid Majrooh told Business Insider last week, such funding cuts have put the people of Afghanistan in danger and the health system at "risk of collapse."
 
"We have a resilient healthcare system, but it's too dependent on aid," Majrooh said. "When we hear messages from the World Bank or the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund donors—whether they say that they have put our funds on hold, or they've frozen them—what that means to me is 3,700 health facilities will collapse. That the health of 35 million people will collapse."
 
The OCHA reported late last week in its weekly humanitarian update that provincial hospitals were limiting their services "due to budget constraints."
 
"In Uruzgan, the provincial hospital downgraded their services to emergency and trauma only while outpatient department services and other services were suspended," the report read.
 
Early next week, the U.N. will meet to discuss a "looming humanitarian catastrophe" in Afghanistan as the country's healthcare system buckles.
 
Before the Taliban's return to power, Afghanistan relied heavily on foreign aid while under U.S.-backed military occupation. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the outlet that medical providers have been working without salaries for months and hospitals are running low on medicines—crises which have been exacerbated in the last several weeks.
 
"Potential collapse of the healthcare system is one of our major concerns," Martine Flokstra, an operations manager for MSF, told Al Jazeera.
 
A medic working with the organization in Herat wrote in a dispatch from the field on Monday that the number of malnourished people who need treatment at the hospital there is growing following the end of the United States' 20-year war in Afghanistan, and that overcrowding at the hospital is becoming a problem as patients are turned away from clinics that have lost funding:
 
Now the main worry is that the other health facilities, for example those that receive funding from the World Bank, won't be able to carry on their work in Herat as the World Bank has stopped its funding. There’s no clear picture about what will happen. Some staff working for other organizations haven't received salaries for months, this has happened before but then people had hope they would be paid eventually. Now, with so much uncertainty, people tell me they have no hope and many are looking for another job.
 
"Treating patients is our responsibility, that’s how I think about it," the medic wrote. "Right now, we are the only international organization working in Herat. Before, we could refer people to other health providers but now it feels like when people come to us we are their last option."
 
 
The World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are among the groups calling for increased aid to support Afghanistan's health system.
 
The IFRC noted that the impending collapse of the healthcare system comes amid a widespread drought and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as continuing conflict.
 
"After living through decades of hardships, Afghans now face the ravages of a climate crisis, a global pandemic, and internal displacement," Mohammad Nabi Burhan, acting secretary general of Afghan Red Crescent, told Al Jazeera.

"Urgent international action is needed to support millions of people with the necessities of life through the coming months and Afghanistan's harsh winter," he said.

The U.N. said 18 million people—about half of Afghanistan's population—are currently facing a humanitarian disaster, and the other half of the country could soon join them.

"Providing aid to all vulnerable Afghans in need must be our top priority," said Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, on social media on Monday.


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