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.
Global COVID-19 cases surpass 226.8 mln, death toll tops 4.66 mln: WHO
The cumulative total of global COVID-19 cases increased to more than 226.8 million, with the death toll exceeding 4.66 million as of Friday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
There had been 226,844,344 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,666,334 deaths as of Friday, the WHO’s COVID-19 dashboard revealed.
A total of 5,634,533,040 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide as of Tuesday, the WHO reported.
The cumulative total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States neared 42 million as of Friday, with the death toll surpassing 672,000, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Specifically, the country’s case count rose to 41,942,199 on Friday, the CSSE tally showed.
The United States continues to lead the world in the numbers of both confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Another 32,651 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,371,301, according to official figures released on Friday.
The country also recorded another 178 coronavirus-related deaths as the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 134,983.
These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Germany’s federal disease control agency, said in its latest report released on Friday that the country registered 11,022 new infections and 20 new deaths within 24 hours.
A total of 4,125,878 COVID-19 infections have been officially registered in Germany since the outbreak of the pandemic, with the death toll climbing to 92,857 as of Friday, said the RKI.
Russia registered 19,905 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 7,234,425 infections, the official monitoring and response center said on Friday.
The nationwide death toll grew by 791 to 196,626 fatalities while the number of recoveries increased by 16,619 to 6,469,017.
Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer rights and human well-being watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said on Friday that the situation with the coronavirus in the country is stable but remains tense.
India’s COVID-19 tally rose to 33,417,390 on Saturday, as 35,662 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, the federal health ministry’s latest data showed.
An additional 281 deaths were also recorded since Friday morning, taking the death toll to 444,529.
Most of the new cases and deaths were reported from the southern state of Kerala.
Currently, there are 340,639 active cases in the country with an increase of 1,583 during the period.
The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) reported 23,134 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,347,550.
The DOH also reported 255 coronavirus-related deaths, raising the country’s death toll to 36,583.
Vietnam reported 11,521 new COVID-19 cases and 212 deaths on Friday, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.
The new infections brought the country’s total tally to 667,650, with 16,637 deaths, the ministry said.
Most of the community cases were detected in southern localities, including 5,972 in the epicenter Ho Chi Minh City, 4,013 in the nearby Binh Duong province and 345 in Dong Nai province.
COVID-19 cases close to 41 million in US, hospitals overwhelmed
The cumulative total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed 40.92 million on Saturday, with the death toll exceeding 659,000 and COVID-19 hospitalizations topping 100,000 due to raging highly contagious Delta variant.
This has pushed health systems in many states to limit, Reuters reported.
The country’s case count stood at 40,920,379 as of Saturday, with the death toll reaching 659,675, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Health systems in the United States, especially those with low vaccination rates, are trying to deal with hiking hospitalizations as the nationwide total topped 100,000 as of September 9, with 26,000 patients being treated in intensive care units, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Hospitals across the U.S. are facing mounting pressure, with the national average of intensive-care unit availability at just 20 percent. Medical resources in many regions are in short supply, and medical staff are overwhelmed.
St Anthony’s Hospital in Florida is one of 15 hospitals in the area that has seen a tenfold increase in hospitalizations since July, and 85 percent of its patients have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the hospital’s president.
Doctors at the hospital also said that unvaccinated infected patients are more likely to suffer more serious conditions and need to be kept alive by a ventilator. The patients usually want to make a phone call with their family members before intubation. Unfortunately, this is often their final goodbye to their families.
An intensive care nurse at the hospital said that, as a health care worker, she thought she could “survive the epidemic without vaccination,” but the raging epidemic has forced her to change her attitude and choose to get vaccinated.
Australia’s New South Wales records highest COVID-19 daily caseload
Australia’s New South Wales state, the epicentre of the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak, reported 1,599 new locally acquired COVID-19 infections on Saturday, its biggest one-day rise in the pandemic.
New South Wales, in which its largest city of Sydney has been under strict stay-at-home orders for nearly three months, said a further eight people died, Reuters reported.
A four-stage national reopening plan unveiled by the federal government in July aims to relax several tough curbs once the country reaches a 70-80% immunization target from 40% now.
Australia has now recorded nearly 73,000 COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 1,084.
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