With a health system that is weakened by decades of war and millions of people displaced by conflict, the COVID-19 crisis is expected to rapidly increase in Afghanistan. To help prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible, Cordaid will integrate a COVID-19 response within its ongoing activities in Herat, Kabul and other high-risk border areas such as Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Balkh.
(Surkhrod district, Jalalabad, Nangarhar province bordering with Pakistan. Mother with kids, displaced by conflict. © Cordaid/Frank van Lierde)
“We have no time to lose”, says Cordaid Afghanistan Director Jaap van Hierden. “This is the time for global solidarity and humanitarian action.” He also noted that with rapidly rising food prices and an increased inability to earn a daily income, many vulnerable people and families may soon face additional hardship.
Massive migration increases COVID-19 risks
The number of reported COVID-19 cases is still low (40 on March 23rd), but increases rapidly. Especially with the high numbers of Afghans returning from Iran via the Herat and Nimroz borders. Millions of Afghans live in Iran and thousands are returning on a daily basis, because of the COVID-19 outbreak there and the weak economy. “We expect the actual number of cases in Afghanistan to be much higher, given the massive number of Afghans returning from Iran where potentially they’ve been exposed to the virus. But also given the lack of detection, information, and awareness in the rural areas of Herat”, says Dr. Hedeyatullah Mushfiq, Cordaid’s healthcare programme manager in Kabul.
The limited capacity of a war-ravaged health system
For decades, the Afghan people have been forced to cope with prolonged battle, injustice and extreme poverty. Over half the population of over 30 million people lives below the poverty line. 11 million Afghans are acutely and severely food insecure making them extremely vulnerable to the virus. “A major COVID-19 outbreak must be prevented by all necessary means”, Dr. Mushfiq continues, “as the limited capacity of the war-ravaged health system will be totally insufficient to cope with an exponential increase of cases.”
The epidemic in Afghanistan is not yet out of control. We are supporting isolated and rural communities and taking protection measures for all staff in the field.
Abdur Rauf, Cordaid’s humanitarian aid programme manager, based in Kabul
“Last week the Governor of Herat asked all aid organisation, including Cordaid, for their support”, says Jaap van Hierden. “Of course we immediately consented. We will do whatever we can to help prevent a massive outbreak.”
COVID-19 response by Cordaid and Afghan partners
Cordaid is integrating COVID-19 sensitization and prevention activities in its ongoing health and humanitarian operations. Together with our Afghan implementing partners, we are doing this in Kabul, Kandahar (in the south), Nangarhar (border area with Pakistan), Herat (border area with Iran), and Balkh (in the north). Activities will include:
- Training of Trainers for health centre staff and health community workers on COVID-19 awareness and prevention;
- Community awareness sessions on COVID-19 prevention and response;
- Waste management to reduce transmission and contagion risks in communities;
- Distribution of soap in communities;
- Provision of thermometers;
- Establishing or improving referral systems to health centres and other health facilities that have a COVID-19 treatment ward;
- Media COVID-19 awareness campaigns.
Reaching out to women, children, elderly and disabled persons
Altogether, an expected 68.000 people will receive soap and awareness-raising information about the prevention, the spread and the symptoms of the COVID-19 disease. Among the people we reach with our COVID-19 response in Afghanistan are 40,000 girls and boys, 13,000 women, 1,000 elderly and 4,000 disabled persons.
Hopefully COVID-19 will become a wake-up call in strengthening health systems, in Afghanistan and around the globe. No country should be left behind.
Jaap van Hierden, Cordaid Country Director Afghanistan (based in Kabul)
“We have to act now to counter COVID-19”, Abdur Rauf, Cordaid’s humanitarian aid programme manager in Kabul stresses. “The epidemic in Afghanistan is not yet out of control. We are supporting isolated and rural communities and taking protection measures for all staff in the field. Our female field staff is reaching out to women. They are often the most underprivileged and isolated and most in need of information and means to protect themselves and their children.”
Improved preparedness against future pandemics
“Notwithstanding our contribution in addressing COVID-19 within communities and others that are most vulnerable, much more support is needed in preventing COVID-19 and treating those that are most affected”, Jaap van Hierden continues. He also noted the importance of being better prepared against potential future pandemics. “Hopefully COVID-19 will become a wake-up call in strengthening health systems, in Afghanistan and around the globe. No country should be left behind”, he concludes.