Afghan healthcare system faces ‘potential collapse’

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International aid agencies have raised the alarm about an “impending humanitarian crisis” in Afghanistan, with medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) saying the country’s vulnerable healthcare system was facing a “potential collapse”.

On Monday, the United Nations appealed for almost $200m in extra funding for life-saving aid in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover last month resulted in the exodus of aid workers and subsequent funding cut.

“Basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and food and other life-saving aid is about to run out,” said OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke on Monday.

Martine Flokstra from the MSF said an already dire situation in Afghanistan’s hospitals has become worse since the Taliban’s march on Kabul on August 15 triggered a collapse of the West-backed government.

She said medics have not received salaries in months and health centres are running out of medicines amid an increase in the number of patients coming to facilities. “So potential collapse of the healthcare system is one of our major concerns,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Sirens are sounding,” Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Kabul, said about SOS being sent out by aid agencies such as World Health Organization (WHO), MSF, Afghan Red Crescent and Red Cross.

The WHO has warned that Afghanistan was becoming increasingly desperate and that a pause in the country’s wellness projects has left millions of Afghans at risk of losing essential medical care.

“WHO has said that 90 percent of their clinics will close imminently,” Bellis said, adding that last year they treated millions of people through their 2,300 health clinics spread across the country.

Continue to provide assistance

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said the extra sum meant a total of $606m in aid was now needed for Afghanistan until the end of the year, as the country has been cut off from the international financial institutions and its foreign reserves frozen by the US.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that they will continue to provide assistance despite sanctions on the Taliban.

“We are determined with the international community to continue to provide the Afghans with humanitarian assistance. We can and will do that working through partners and NGOs such as the United Nations as sanctions remain in place on Afghanistan,” he said at a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

Al Jazeera’s Bellis said donor countries are trying to find ways to send aid through different aid agencies.

“It is a complicated picture in Afghanistan. It is a vulnerable country, but it has always relied on international aid and donors and a lot of that money isn’t coming because of sanctions on the Taliban,” she said.

UN meet over Afghan issue

The Afghan situation will be discussed next Monday at a ministerial meeting in Geneva hosted by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

The country, now under the control of the Taliban after 20 years of war, is facing a “looming humanitarian catastrophe”, Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric warned last week announcing the conference.

OCHA voiced hope that countries would pledge generously at the conference, saying $606m was needed to provide critical food and livelihood assistance to nearly 11 million people, and essential health services to 3.4 million.

The funds would also go towards treatment for acute malnutrition for more than a million children and women, water, sanitation and hygiene interventions, and protection of children and survivors of gender-based violence.

Most of the requested funds had already been asked for at the end of last year as part of a $1.3bn humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, which remains severely underfunded.

Even before the Taliban victory, Afghanistan was heavily aid-dependent – with more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) drawn from foreign funding.

The UN has warned 18 million people are facing a humanitarian disaster, and another 18 million could quickly join them.

A full $413m of Tuesday’s appeal were unmet needs from the previous appeal, while $193m would go towards new emerging needs and changes in operating costs, OCHA said.

Call for urgent action

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) echoed similar concerns and called for urgent action.

It warned that millions of Afghans face huge humanitarian needs caused by one of the country’s worst-ever droughts, acute food shortages, a fractured health system and the spread of COVID-19.

“After living through decades of hardships, Afghans now face the ravages of a climate crisis, a global pandemic and internal displacement,” said Mohammad Nabi Burhan, acting secretary general of Afghan Red Crescent.

“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 added.





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