Afghanistan Faces Humanitarian Emergency as it Grapples with Coronavirus

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient. Photo: NIAID/Wikimedia commons

In Afghanistan, now far outside the consciousness of most of the world as each country deals with its own coronavirus ramifications, families often must guard their relatives’ oxygen tanks for fear that they will be stolen by the relatives of other Covid-19 sufferers.

That is the ugly reality of the coronavirus pandemic in this war-torn land, where hospitals, understaffed and underequipped in the best of times, are now on the verge of complete collapse.

Families cannot leave their loved ones for fear they will receive no care at all due to the  severe shortage of nurses and doctors nationwide. There is basically no protective equipment — and just a handful of face masks — to be seen when interviewers were on the scene recently at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan in late June of 2020.

After many of the hospital’s more experienced professional staff simply walked off the job months ago in fear that they would contract the virus, the facility, one of only two in the Afghan capital that is tasked with treating Coronavirus patients, is staffed with inexperienced recent medical school graduates.

The International Committee of the Red Cross stated recently that in addition to the current health emergency Afghanistan faces, the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19 could be even more damaging. As many as 12.4 million people, one third of Afghanistan’s population, are already living at “emergency” levels regarding their food security.

Reporters from the Associated Press spoke to Assadullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. He relates that, like many family caregivers, he was forced to remain awake for days at a time at his father’s ICU unit bedside for fear that his precious oxygen tank would be taken.

Not long before Assadullah’s father lost his battle with Covid-19, the family member of another ICU patient did indeed make a move for his father’s tank.

“Your father is dying but mine is alive, he told me … in such a situation, how could I have left my father alone?” asked Assadullah, whose father passed away last Tuesday, of the reporters.

There are only 13 beds in the hospital’s ICU — and fewer ventilators.

The institution’s director, Dr. Hakimullah Saleh, believes that everyone who works at the hospital is doing “heroic” work. Not only do they have to deal with chronic shortages of equipment, they are now often “threatened” by angry families who lash out at them in their grief and frustration.

According to the AP report, Afghanistan’s Health Ministry says that more than 1,700 medical workers across the nation have been infected while caring for COVID-19 patients; twenty-six of the medical professionals have died, including 40 at the Afghan-Japan hospital — which only has 100 beds.

Afghanistan’s coronavirus tally is an especially sobering one — recording nearly 35,000 positive cases so far, including 1,094 fatalities. The actual number of those infected is thought to be much higher.

Last month, the International Rescue Committee issued a warning that the nation of Afghanistan is close to experiencing a humanitarian disaster since is beleaguered government simply does not have the means to test 80% of possible cases of Covid-19.

According to the AP report, Afghanistan’s Health Ministry said it can to test only 2,500 people per day; however, 10,000 to 20,000 people presented themselves asking to be tested daily during the month of June, but many were turned away. According to the World Health Organization, the struggling nation has only one physician for every 3,500 of its citizens, less than one fifth of the global average.