Lockdown of Kabul a ‘good first step’ but more needed to avoid a devastating death toll, warns Save the Children.
Despite a city-wide lockdown in Kabul, the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak combined with Afghanistan’s weak health system, widespread corruption, decades-old conflict and ongoing political crisis, is turning the situation in the country into a perfect storm for children, Save the Children said in a press release.
In the first two weeks of March, nearly 75,000 Afghans crossed the porous border from Iran, where the Coronavirus outbreak has already claimed more than 2,000 lives and infected an estimated 30,000 people.
Afghanistan meanwhile has confirmed more than 100 Coronavirus cases, though the actual number is expected to be much higher. Several border crossings remain open and thousands of Afghans on average are crossing every day.
Save the Children has expressed deep concerns for millions of children and their families who are already in a precarious situation and urgently calls for the government to step up prevention and containment measures.
According to the World Bank Afghanistan only has 0.3 doctors for every 1,000 people in the country, compared to 4 doctors per 1,000 people in Italy, which is struggling to contain and treat the virus.
Timothy Bishop, Save the Children’s Afghanistan Country Director, said: “The border with Iran is porous and difficult to control, so it’s more than likely that many of the tens of thousands of returning Afghans are bringing the virus with them and spreading it far and wide without even knowing it. But in a matter of weeks, the epidemic will make itself known. The death toll could be unimaginable while the economic implications in a country where so many live in extreme poverty would be catastrophic.
“It is therefore essential that the international community and the Government of Afghanistan immediately begin to obtain the resources needed to respond to COVID-19 like testing kits, protective equipment for health workers and ventilators for the very sick. Priority must be given to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities, including people with pre-existing health conditions and malnourished children – of whom there are 2.5 million in Afghanistan.
“Preventative measures such as social distancing and more wide-spread lockdowns must also be practiced. Lessons from other countries have shown such measures help to control the spread of the virus. Better screening at border crossings with Iran would also help.
“The severe economic consequences of the virus globally also carries further risks for a country like Afghanistan whose economy is almost completely donor-dependent. We cannot forget the children of Afghanistan because a Coronavirus epidemic in the country could pale in comparison to decades of war.”