‘Million at risk’ as attacks on Afghan healthcare facilities rise

Red Cross raises concern over spike in attacks on health facilities and large number of coronavirus cases among medics.

COVID-19 in Afghanistan
More than 26,000 people have so far tested positive for the coronavirus in Afghanistan [Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu]

Rising violence and attacks on healthcare facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic have put millions of people at risk in Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned.

In a statement on Wednesday, the humanitarian group said civilian casualties were on the rise even as the war-torn country battles the coronavirus pandemic.

“The recent trajectory in Afghanistan is of great concern,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan.

“After the hope brought by a relative reduction in hostilities in February and March, we again see more violence.”

The ICRC said Afghanistan’s health system was stretched even before the arrival of the novel coronavirus, with limited coverage in conflict-affected areas and poor specialised healthcare.

Attacks on medical staff and health facilities, such as the assault last month on a hospital in the capital, Kabul that killed 24 people, including 16 women and two newborn babies, only made the situation worse, it said.

“COVID-19 has challenged the world’s most advanced nations. A country where gunmen attack a hospital stands no chance at providing quality care. We see it in health facilities in conflict-affected areas and in prisons, where people have already limited access to healthcare,” Schaerer said.

With a population of more than 37 million, Afghanistan has roughly 172 hospitals and four doctors per 10,000 people, according to a 2019 government report.

More than 26,000 people have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, and nearly 500 have died, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown after the first cases were reported in February, but people have largely ignored the regulations.

Among the more than 900 cases in the capital Kabul, more than a third were doctors and other healthcare staff, officials said last month.

The ICRC said this worrying trend puts “more strain on the entire system”.

On Monday, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced it was ceasing operations and withdrawing from the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, after its maternity ward was targeted by gunmen on May 12.

Source: Al Jazeera