Afghan healthcare system at risk of collapse, aid agencies warn

International donors including the World Bank and European Union froze funding shortly after Taliban takeover.

Wounded Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital after explosions went off outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan [Reuters]

Afghanistan’s healthcare system is at risk of collapse, two major aid agencies have told the Reuters news agency, after foreign donors stopped providing aid following the Taliban takeover.

After the United States withdrew the bulk of its remaining troops last month, the Taliban accelerated its military campaign, taking control of the capital Kabul on August 15.

International donors including the World Bank and European Union froze funding to Afghanistan shortly afterwards.

“One of the great risks for the health system here is basically to collapse because of lack of support,” said Filipe Ribeiro, Afghanistan representative for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), one of the largest medical aid agencies in the country.

“The overall health system in Afghanistan is understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded, for years. And the great risk is that this underfunding will continue over time.”

Necephor Mghendi, Afghanistan head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), said the healthcare system – which was already fragile and heavily reliant on foreign aid – had been left under additional strain.

“The humanitarian needs on the ground are massive,” he said.

Both aid agencies said that while their ground operations were broadly unaffected, they had seen a significant increase in demand as other facilities are unable to fully function.

Mghendi said closures of Afghan banks had meant almost all humanitarian agencies have been unable to access funds, leaving vendors and staff unpaid.

Compounding the issue, medical supplies will now need to be restocked earlier than expected.

“Supplies that were supposed to last for three months will not be able to last three months. We may need to replenish much earlier than that,” Mghendi said.

Ribeiro said MSF had stockpiled medical supplies before the takeover but that with flights disrupted and land borders in disarray, it was unclear when more might reach the country.

Shipment of health supplies arrives

The World Health Organization said on Monday that a plane carrying 12.5 tonnes of medicines and health supplies had landed at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, the first such shipment since the Taliban took control.

The WHO said that the plane, which flew from Dubai will deliver supplies to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across the country.

The supplies – which include trauma and emergency kits – are enough to cover the basic needs of more than 200,000 people, provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients, WHO added.

“After days of non-stop work to find a solution … we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan,” WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed al-Mandhari said.

“Humanitarian agencies such as WHO have faced enormous challenges in sending life-saving supplies to Afghanistan in recent weeks due to security and logistics constraints,” al-Mandhari added.

He further thanked Pakistan, which provided the plane for the delivery.

It was the first of three flights planned with Pakistan International Airlines, and the WHO said it is working to ensure “this week’s shipment is the first of many”.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride reporting from Kabul said that the flight from Dubai “does open the wider potential for air routes into Afghanistan.

“Mazar-i-Sharif is a big important city in the north, it has a big, important airport. Before the collapse of the government there were international flights there, so this is a confirmation that they have restored air traffic control, which does seem to pave the way forward for Kabul,” McBride said.

“Once the US departs, they take with them air traffic control and the Taliban will have the job of not only restoring the airport but restoring their air traffic control.

“It does offer a way forward which everyone here it seems wants to see – the government, the aid organisations, and of course the population – because that would mean the return eventually of commercial flights,” McBride said.

Nearly 80 percent of forcefully displaced people are women and children.

The WHO has warned that Afghanistan could soon face a shortage of medical personnel as staff are among those fleeing the country and women health workers are staying away from work out of fear.

During its period in power from 1996-2001, the Taliban had an uneasy relationship with foreign aid agencies, eventually expelling many, including MSF, in 1998.

This time, the group has said it welcomes foreign donors, and will protect the rights of foreign and local staff – a commitment that has so far been upheld, Ribeiro said.

“They actually ask us to stay, and they asked us to keep running our operations the way we were running them before,” he said. “The relations are, so far, pretty reassuring.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies