The World Health Organization said health care is under siege in Afghanistan as the United States accelerates its troop withdrawal from the country.
Afghanistan is one of the largest and longest-standing humanitarian emergencies in the world. The country is subject to almost every type of hazard — an escalating conflict, a rapidly spreading pandemic and most recently a severe drought.
The WHO said 18.4 million Afghans need humanitarian assistance — a situation that has serious health consequences. It said increasing violence has led to more civilian trauma cases.
The regional director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Rick Brennan, said there has been a 29% increase in civilian casualties in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year. He said the arrival of people with complex war-related injuries is putting an enormous strain on health workers and facilities.
“Moreover, this year there have been 30 attacks on health care across the country, including the total destruction of an immunization center late last month and a reported artillery attack on a health center in Kunar province just two days ago," Brennan said. "Such attacks are a violation of the right to health. They limit people’s access to health care at a time of increased need and they contravene international humanitarian law.”
Increasing instability has coincided with the quicker than expected pullout of American troops from the country. Brennan described the current situation as fluid, fast-moving and terribly concerning. He said many health care workers have left their posts because of security concerns, though some reportedly were starting to return.
“I think it is a mixed picture right now. But we are clearly concerned of declining access to health care. … We are concerned about our lack of access to be able to provide essential medicines and supplies and we are concerned about attacks on health care,” Brennan said.
Brennan said the WHO is not in direct communication with the Taliban. However, he said the WHO has received indirect requests to continue to provide health services in districts taken over by the Taliban.
He said he believes the WHO has a good reputation, particularly in areas where it has run polio vaccination campaigns. That, he added, is likely to be instrumental in the WHO’s ability to maintain a field presence in those areas.