According to the latest official statistics from the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the number of people infected with the Coronavirus has reached 30,451, including 4,692 cases in Herat. The number of fatalities in Herat province is 128 people.
The first positive COVID-19 case in the country was recorded in Herat and announced by Ferozuddin Feroz, the former Minister of Public Health on Feb. 24, 2020. A state of emergency was declared in the province.
The first case in Herat was actually imported from Iran, where the religious city of Qom had become the second place to report an outbreak in the world outside of mainland China. Herat, which borders Iran, soon faced the influx of large numbers of immigrants fleeing to Afghanistan due to fears of the spread of Coronavirus.
As the province became the first stop for the immigrants, it also became the place from where the virus spread into Afghanistan.
Although the Afghan government closed the border with Iran for a few days in the beginning of the spread of Coronavirus in Herat, it re-opened again.
Speaking to Reporterly in the early days of the pandemic, Najibullah Mohibi, member of Herat’s Provincial Council, said that nearly 10,000 migrants returned to Afghanistan from Iran on a daily basis.
Following the spread of the virus in Herat and increase in the number of confirmed cases, local government officials and citizens of the province faced another challenge – the resistance of some religious scholars against the health programmes and measures directed by the Afghan government.
With the number on unknown cases in the province increasing by the day, a video featuring Mawlawi Mujibur Rahman Ansari went viral on social media where he could be heard preaching on the first day of Ramadan:
“The Coronavirus is for infidels, not for Muslims! O Muslims who have fallen into bed and have been infected with the Coronavirus, know that this disease is a mercy for you. This virus has come from Allah…”
However, the virus was a horrific reality that changed the life of the people. As the new Governor of Herat Sayed Wahid Qatali said in an article which was published in one of the Afghan newspapers, “We have recognized the virus in all its destructive aspects, and we must fight it.”
“The virus has spread widely in the city and in the districts, and all people must protect themselves from Covid-19,” the governor noted.
Nonetheless, the Herat politician criticized the flouting of lockdown restrictions and said: “We have to accept that our original plan for implementing the daily movement restriction had technical and social shortcomings, yet the inevitability and vacuum of information is understandable in the early days for which the local administration should not be blamed.”
Regarding the quarantine situation in the province, Qatali added, “Preliminary statistics from the local government show that quarantine in the first step will leave nearly 300,000 people unemployed, and these 300,000 are the ones who are the main bread-earners for their families.”
While nearly three and a half months have passed since the first positive COVID-19 case was reported in Herat, the province still has the highest number of people infected with the virus. However, the Afghan government in Kabul declared the pandemic a “catastrophe.”
To manage and adjust the public works/activities and at the same time to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the government established an Emergency Committee chaired by Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh.
The committee drafted a working plan for the pandemic and to manage its fallout with the MoPH in collaboration with relevant government institutions and the private sector. The plan was finalized on June 6, 2020.
According to the plan, wearing masks in public places, observing two meters distance from each other, preventing gatherings of more than 10 people, preventing elderly people from leaving their homes, disinfecting work environments and providing sanitary facilities by departments and service institutions for employees and workers and maintaining work shifts in government offices became obligatory.
In addition, the closure of religious schools, public and private schools and educational centres were extended for another three months in order to prevent further spread of the COVID-19. Besides, the activities of wedding halls, gyms, and amusement parks were halted for next three months. Given the current situation, this survey has been conducted from Herat citizens in the districts as well as in Herat city.
Research Methods and Data Collection
A field-based approach was taken for research and data collection for this survey. After designing the questionnaire with the relevant indicators such as health, economy, social and family relations, we collected data from different parts of Herat province. Interviews and surveys were done through messengers and social media, telephone calls and in-person.
There were a number of constraints in the field survey, including quarantine conditions and the crisis caused by Coronavirus, which limited our access to people due to compliance with health guidelines and problems caused by the fear of cooperation.
Another limitation was time. The researchers wanted the survey’s responses before it was too late and the peak of infections had already passed.
Therefore, the attempt was to provide a clear view of the COVID-19 pandemic in Herat province, in a short period of time, while providing a sample that would help to understand the situation better in the midst of statistical poverty.
The survey was conducted to investigate the Coronavirus pandemic in Herat province, which is in the west of Afghanistan.
Following the Coronavirus survey in Kabul, which examined indicators such as health, economic, social and family issues, we conducted the same survey/study in Herat with a slight change in the questionnaire.
In this survey, a total of 232 participants from May 21 to June 11 were interviewed while maintaining the necessary safety and health measures.
The participants in this survey were from different ethnic groups and from across Herat district (Figure 1).
In this survey people between the ages of 22 to 55 had participated.
In terms of ethnicity, 111 were Pashtun, 50 were Tajiks, 18 were Hazaras, 16 were Sadats, 14 were Uzbeks, 9 were Baloch, 9 were Mori and 5 were Arabs.
The rest of the demographic and educations details are represented in the following illustration.
Results of the Survey in Herat
As can be seen in the illustration above, 93% of respondents said they have not received any aid/assistance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Herat province.
55% percent of participants said they would prefer home remedies in case they get infected with Coronavirus, and 66% of the respondents had met with friends during the movement restrictions in the city.
29% of respondents said that their relatives and acquaintances were infected with the virus and a majority, 71%, said that none of their relatives and acquaintances were infected with the Covid-19.
36.5% of respondents said they are very worried about the coronavirus, 26% said they are less worried about the coronavirus, and another 38% said they are not worried about the coronavirus.
Q1. What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
The Coronavirus has so far been untreatable and presented with varied symptoms, and because of this unfamiliarity, it has scared everyone around the world. Knowing the signs and symptoms of Coronavirus is important.
Therefore, as the first question, we asked the citizens of Herat province, what the symptoms of the virus were. With this question, we wanted to measure the level of awareness of the people of Herat about the virus when the first positive case was recorded (Figure 2).
Q2. Have you ever been tested or diagnosed with Coronavirus?
In order to confirm the virus infection as well as identify and announce the number of deaths and infected people, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has been testing and diagnosing suspected cases of the virus through special and private hospitals in the provinces, including Herat.
Therefore, in the survey, we asked the citizens of Herat whether they have ever been tested or diagnosed with the coronavirus or not.
Q3. Have any of your relatives and acquaintances ever been infected with the coronavirus?
The number of Coronavirus cases in Afghanistan has been questionably lower than in its neighbouring region. Therefore, we asked the participants whether any of their relatives and acquaintances have ever had Coronavirus. With this question, we wanted to get a sample and see that at least among the respondents of this survey, how many had noticed positive cases of the virus amongst their families and friends.
Q4. If “Yes” then how many people have been infected? Of them, how many have died and how many have recovered.
In response to the previous question as to whether any of the relatives and acquaintances of the participants were infected with the coronavirus, those who chose “yes” were 67 people.
These respondents knew 288 people who had contracted the virus.
According to them, 8.3% positive cases have died while 54.51% people have recovered.
Q5. How worried are you about contracting the coronavirus?
Citizens’ worries about the risk of contracting COVID-19 also shows how seriously they are taking this threat. Therefore, we used a qualitative scale with three options in order to measure the worries of Herat citizens.
Q6. What have you done to prevent Coronavirus?
Due to the rapid and widespread outbreak of Coronavirus, it has forced all countries to resort to public health and safety measures. The citizens along with the governments have taken steps to secure and prevent the spread of the virus.
Two strategies have been implemented so far worldwide to prevent the spread of Covid-19 which include following health guidelines by washing hands, wearing gloves, disinfecting and social distancing; or quarantine at home with extremely limited movement outside.
Q7. If you get the symptoms of the coronavirus, which of these options do you prefer?
Coronavirus is considered shameful in Afghanistan. Many who are infected try to hide it from others and do not get tested at times. The other factor is the mistrust in Afghan health institutions. These account for the responses in Herat too (Figure 3).
Q8. In percentages, how much do you trust government institutions?
In situation where Coronavirus is highly widespread, hospitals may be more infectious if improperly managed, than anywhere else.
People’s trust in hospitals is equally important, because if there is mistrust in the facility, it will render any advice ineffective and therefore, the efficiency of the hospital will decrease.
We allowed the respondents to select a percentage value for this question and a majority said they trusted public healthcare by 90% (Figure 4)
Q9. Have you been working or on leave since the Coronavirus crisis began?
The Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent closure of the work have brought another challenge which affected the daily lives of many citizens. Since Herat was the first province to report a case, it was also one of the first provinces to impose restrictions on offices and businesses that kept employed individuals at home (Figure 5).
Q10. If you are on leave, do you get paid/do you have a source of income?
In a country where there is no unemployment pay-out, no financial support packages in emergencies, no powerful government that can afford to bailout its citizens, closing offices and businesses complicates the situation. Therefore, the question was intended to check the economic situation, and a majority of them have no source of income or draw a salary currently.
Q11. If “No,” what is your current economic situation?
With the onset of the Coronavirus crisis, the economic situation of citizens in many provinces of Afghanistan has deteriorated. Citizens of Herat are no different and in fact, their economic challenges started earlier than other Afghans, since the lockdown was imposed earlier (Figure 6).
Q12. Have you received any support since the Coronavirus crisis started?
The crisis caused by the outbreak of Coronavirus has left many citizens seeking financial support.
Q13. If “Yes,” then from which institution did you receive help?
Among the 7% who did receive some form of monetary aid in Herat, we wanted to know the source (Figure 7).
Q14. If “No,” then what institution did you initially expect to receive help from?
Although there is little hope of the people’s financial needs being met in such critical situations, we asked the other 93 % Herat participants, what institutions had they expected the most to receive help from (Figure 8).
Q15. Have you attended weddings or funerals since the lockdowns?
The outbreak of the Coronavirus had a detrimental effect on social interactions as the lockdown imposed restrictions on public gatherings. Although severing social ties have consequences, Herat did not have any other option. However, as can be seen some people did say they have been ignoring the restrictions.
Q16. Have you attended Friday Prayers since Coronavirus spread?
In the days when movement restrictions were in effect in Herat and Coronavirus cases were rising, news of citizens attending Friday prayers had gone viral. The people had ignored the health guidelines of the Ministry of Public Health and the government. The 31% who were not attending the prayers, even during Ramadan, explained that Friday prayers required contact with people, and the large gatherings could lead to further spread of the virus.
Q17. Have you ever met your friends since the imposition of the quarantine restrictions?
These days, close relationships have become meaningful due to the forced distance. Friendly visits are one of the means of chain of transmission of this unknown virus. Although global guidelines recommend that friendly visits and social interactions should be avoided in order to break this chain, people still ignore these recommendations.
Q18. If “No,” what has been the alternative to your relationships with friends?
Man is a social being and thus, the imposition of restrictions affects human socialization. Mostly, people were mostly successful in replacing physical interactions with other alternatives such as social media, reading and watching movies.
However, there were quite a few who said they had no alternative form of entertainment.
Q19. Write in one sentence the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on your social relationships.
The pandemic has had a profound effect on people’s social relations. We raised the issue as an open question for participants to write about the experience and impact of the crisis in Herat on their social relations. As expected, a majority (Figure 9) reported limited social relations during the lockdowns with others reporting emotions such as feeling isolated, distant and afraid.
Q20. Has your behaviour with your family members at home changed since the Covid-19 crisis began? If yes, then how has it changed?
The Coronavirus outbreak has forced most people to stay indoors. Unemployment, psychological stress caused by fear of falling sick, poverty and other problems have led to increased instances of domestic violence. However, for others, this situation has provided an opportunity to spend more time with their family and friends.