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Health Care Needs Grow Amid Deepening Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

Afghan nationals react at a gathering to urge the international community to help Afghan refugees, in New Delhi, India, August 18, 2021.
Afghan nationals react at a gathering to urge the international community to help Afghan refugees, in New Delhi, India, August 18, 2021.

The World Health Organization is sounding the alarm about healthcare in Afghanistan, where conflict has left millions of people vulnerable to hunger and illnesses.

About one-half of Afghanistan’s population, including more than four million women and nearly 10 million children, need humanitarian assistance.

The World Health Organization says one-third of the population is facing acute hunger and more than half of all children under age five are malnourished. It says the current drought is expected to worsen an already dire situation.

WHO officials say they are committed to staying in Afghanistan and delivering critical healthcare services. However, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic notes that only will be possible if all parties in the war-torn country respect and protect civilians, health workers and health facilities.

"Continuity of health services must continue without interruption across the country, with a focus on ensuring women have access to female health-workers…Most major health facilities are functional. And this is based on provincial-level field monitoring. Health workers have been called to return to or to remain at their posts, including female health staff,” said Jasarevic.

The new Taliban rulers of Afghanistan have promised to protect women’s rights and allow them to work and study. However, since they have seized control of the country, there have been reports of female workers having been dismissed from their jobs.

Nearly 300,000 Afghans have fled their homes in the last two months, fearing for their safety as U.S. and NATO forces hastened their departure from the country.

Jasarevic says those newly displaced people are extremely vulnerable. They lack food, shelter and many suffer from a variety of health problems.

“In areas where people have recently fled, including Kabul, WHO received field reports of increase in cases of diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, COVID-19-like symptoms and reproductive health complications. When it comes to trauma cases, close to 14,000 conflict-related trauma received at 70 WHO-supported health facilities in July 21,” said Jasarevic.

He says that is more than three times higher than the number of trauma cases received during the same period last year.

The WHO spokesman says attacks on healthcare facilities also pose a major challenge. In the first half of this year, he notes 26 health facilities were damaged, and 31 health care workers were assaulted. He adds 12 of the health workers were killed.

The WHO says medical supplies and equipment are in short supply. It says the most pressing needs are for reproductive and child health services and nutrition supplements to address rising malnutrition among children, especially those affected by conflict.