With limited resources to deal with the spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan and high poverty levels inhibiting compliance with government-mandated lockdowns, experts have warned that the country is headed for a humanitarian disaster.
As of mid-July, Afghanistan had reached 35,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,094 deaths but public-health officials warned that actual cases are likely much higher given the government’s low testing capacity.
In addition, COVID-19 has likely pushed Afghanistan into a recession, overwhelmed the country’s basic health-care system and the numbers infected and dead are likely to be vastly undercounted, a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) stated this week.
According to the report, released on Thursday, testing remains limited, but nearly 43 percent of samples were testing positive as of July 15, one of the highest rates in the world.
The overwhelming effect of the virus has, as UNAMA head Deborah Lyons put it, cast “a huge shadow” over Afghan daily life.
According to the report, as of July 15, the number of reported deaths remained low at just 1,094, but this figure may vastly undercount the true toll of the virus as not only has the testing capacity remained limited but many Afghans do not have access to medical facilities.
At the end of June, the Asia Foundation’s country director wrote: “I have been unable to keep track of the growing number of deaths among my own acquaintances, relatives, and friends’ families.”
While the governor of Kabul Mohammad Yaqub Haidari said at a press conference in June that the city’s ambulance service had reported an average of approximately 33 deaths per day.
SIGAR reported that commenting on the lack of an accurate death count, the head of a Kabul-based hospital dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients estimated that roughly 75 percent of those who died at the hospital had not been tested.
The report also stated that available COVID-19 data points to rapid spread with undetected infection.
As of early June, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health could test only 2,000 of the 10,000–20,000 samples received daily, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian-oriented nongovernmental organization.
“Consequently, up to 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested,” the report read.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s positivity rate – or the proportion of tests that return a positive result divided by the total number of tests conducted – was nearly 43 percent, as of July 15.
SIGAR stated that this was one of the highest positivity rates in the world, based on data collected by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and, separately, by the IRC.
Overall, the IRC said, Afghanistan faced a “humanitarian disaster.”
“The potential for disaster is heightened by the probability that the pandemic will have secondary effects on broader health outcomes,” the report stated.
In addition to this, SIGAR reported that the economic shock of the pandemic – including increased unemployment, food-supply disruptions due to border closures, and rising food prices – has exacerbated Afghans’ food insecurity, already impacted by the ongoing conflict and high poverty levels.
In May, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a common global scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and malnutrition, warned that about one-third of Afghanistan’s estimated 32.2 million people remain in either a crisis or emergency state of food insecurity and require urgent action.
Another challenge the Afghan government is facing is the lack of public cooperation over public-health recommendations.
SIGAR stated that although information campaigns have been launched to help curb the spread of the virus, Afghans are increasingly moving about in Kabul.
Health officials have warned that the public was not paying sufficient attention to the crisis.
Meanwhile, public-health conditions in areas under Taliban control remain unclear, SIGAR reported.
According to them, the group has released messages and videos as part of a public relations campaign highlighting its COVID-19 response, including enforcing quarantine.
“Yet, as aid officials have argued, it has been difficult to assess the effectiveness of the Taliban’s actions,” the report stated.
In addition to this Afghanistan also lacks the medical equipment necessary to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
SIGAR stated that while the Afghan government approved the purchase of 500 ventilators in April, the country’s hospitals currently have only 300 ventilators to help patients.
“Furthermore, Kabul hospitals have also reported a severe lack of oxygen, resulting in relatives bringing makeshift oxygen balloons to help suffering patients,” the report stated.
The pandemic meanwhile has also had a severe impact on the country’s economy.
The IMF said that Afghanistan had likely entered a recession, forecasting that Afghanistan’s GDP would contract by three percent in 2020.
Projected economic contraction by other experts ranged from three percent to 10 percent.
Describing the outlook as “dire,” the World Bank said South Asia would likely experience its worst economic performance in the last four decades and predicted that Afghanistan would be the worst regional performer in 2020, other than the Maldives.
“The pandemic is inflicting severe economic and social damage, with its depth and duration subject to great uncertainty,” the IMF said.
17 Loya Jirga delegates test positive for COVID-19
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health on Saturday confirmed 17 Loya Jirga delegates had tested positive for COVID-19.
According to officials, the delegates infected with the virus had not been allowed to enter the hall.
Noorullah Taraki, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the members of the Loya Jirga who tested positive have been taken to a COVID-19 treatment facility in Kabul.
Critics meanwhile raised their voices on Friday over the apparent lack of adherence to health protocols by the delegates on Friday in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
It was clear that very few delegates wore face masks and no social distancing practices were followed as 3,200 delegates sat shoulder to shoulder in the hall.
This comes after a Public Health Ministry report released last week indicated up to 10 million Afghans had been infected with coronavirus – which has had an enormous impact on the country’s already fragile health system and economy.
The Jirga will decide on the fate of 400 Taliban prisoners and the way forward regarding intra-Afghan talks.
Comprising tribal elders, community leaders and politicians, 3,200 people from around the country are attending the event.
Chairing the Jirga is Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.
He said Saturday on Twitter that Friday’s deliberations had continued late into the night but that a resolution would be announced on Saturday.
We began the second working day of the Consultative Peace Jirga (CPJ). Yesterday, 33 out of 50 CPJ working committees submitted their suggestions, which continued late into the evening. Today, the remaining 17 committees will submit their suggestion. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/ZBZgWF7Q4P
— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) August 8, 2020
“We began the second working day of the Consultative Peace Jirga. Yesterday 33 out of 50 working committees of the #CPJ submitted their suggestions, which continued till late evening. Today, the remaining 17 committees will submit their suggestions.
“The outcome of the committees suggestions on the release of 400 Taliban prisoners & other peace related issues will be announced today. The people of Afghanistan, & the international community looking forward for a positive, & constructive outcome to start the intra-Afghan talks.”
Turkmenistan president sends COVID-19 tests to Afghanistan
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the President of neighboring Turkmenistan has ordered the country’s ministry of health to send COVID-19 test kits as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Turkmen TV reported the president also ordered the Foreign Ministry to deliver the tests to Afghanistan.
This comes after repeated reports that point towards the limited testing facilities and the fragile health system in the country.
Just this week, the World Bank fast-tracked additional grants to Afghanistan to help desperate families and ensure food security.
On Wednesday however, the Ministry of Public Health released details of an official survey conducted with the help of the World Health Organization that found the coronavirus has likely infected a third of the country’s population – roughly 10 million people.
The Afghan health ministry released the estimates Wednesday, saying they are based on antibody tests on about 9,500 people in 34 provinces.
Acting Health Minister, Ahmad Jawad Osmani told a news conference in Kabul the survey showed 31.5 percent of Afghanistan’s population has been infected by COVID-19.
Osmani noted that 53 percent of Kabul’s nearly five million residents had contracted the coronavirus.
Officially, the number of cases reported on Thursday stood at just 36,937.
Last month, the International Federation of Red Cross warned: “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 10 most fragile states in the world.”
“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,” it added.
Survey finds at least 10 million Afghans infected with COVID-19
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health said Wednesday that 10 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the country.
Addressing a press conference, acting Health Minister Jawad Osmani said according to a survey conducted across the country, 31.5 percent of Afghans – which is about 10 million people – have contracted the Coronavirus.
He said the survey had been based on antibody tests on people across the country, with technical support from the World Health Organisation.
Osmani said that 11,500 people from 34 provinces participated in the survey.
The highest infection rate was in Kabul where more than half of the city’s five million population was thought to have been infected.
Osmani said 37 percent of the population in cities and 27 percent of the population in villages have been infected with the virus.
“The studies divided 34 provinces of the country into nine zones, of which Kabul as a zone – 53 percent of its total population is affected by the Coronavirus.
He said 42.9 percent of the total population in eastern provinces had been infected along with 36.3 percent of the population in central provinces, 34.1 percent in the north and 32.4 percent of the total population in northeastern provinces.
He also said the survey found that 25.3 percent of children had contracted the virus. That was 24.2 percent of all boys in the country and 26.8 percent of all girls.
With the adult population, 35.2 percent had contracted the virus. This meant 33.9 percent of all men in the country had contracted COVID-19 and 37.2 percent of all women had been infected.
But the country of around 32 million people has only limited testing capacity and has an official recorded number of cases of just under 37,000.
Earlier Wednesday, the Ministry of Public Health announced its daily updates and said 36,782 people had so far tested positive for COVID-19.
The ministry stated that so far 1,288 people had died of the virus while 25,556 had recovered.
The ministry meanwhile warned people of a second wave of the pandemic, asking the public to fully adhere to precautionary measures to prevent the continued spread of the virus.
“A second wave of the infection is happening everywhere in the world and we cannot be an exception. We will use the findings of this survey to better prepare ourselves for a possible second wave,” Osmani said.
More than 18 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus since it first emerged in China late last year.
The virus entered Afghanistan in February as thousands of migrants returned from neighbouring Iran, which at the time was the region’s worst-hit nation for the virus.
Since then Afghanistan has been ravaged by COVID-19.
A survey on the mortality rate of coronavirus in Afghanistan is now under way.
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