The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern over the recent rise in violence in Afghanistan combined with targeted attacks against healthcare facilities that would prevent access for millions of Afghans who need them especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The recent trajectory in Afghanistan is of great concern. After the hope brought by a relative reduction in hostilities in February and March, we again see more violence. Civilian casualties are on the rise while the country is battling against COVID-19,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s existing healthcare systems are already overstretched due to the limited access in conflict-riddled areas and the influx of hundreds on new Coronavirus cases everyday. In addition, health workers are also getting infected.
“COVID-19 has challenged the world’s most advanced nations. A country where gunmen attack a hospital stands no chance at providing quality care,” Schaerer said referring to the attacks at the Medecins Sans Frontieres-operated maternity wards at Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi hospital.
ICRC has been supporting Afghanistan’s largest hospital, Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar, for the last two decades. The hospital serves 6 million people in the region, many of whom coming from areas where the Taliban is actively fighting government forces.
They have been operating at a reduced capacity in the obstetrics and surgery department for people wounded in war, due to the COVID-19 cases.
Mirwais has been regularly facing a shortage of masks and hand gel as their supply was disrupted by the lockdowns and the virus. Also, blood donations have decreased but the need for blood has not.
“There are some challenges like the supply pipeline that the ICRC can help with,” said Erin O’Connor, the ICRC’s Mirwais hospital project manager. “But getting donors to come to give blood amid COVID-19 is more challenging.”
ICRC also works with health facilities in prisons and detention facilities.
“We battle a worldwide enemy and need a country-wide agreement on how to address COVID-19,” Schaerer said while calling to protect medical missions and strengthen health care systems from both parties of the conflict.
“As a start, full respect of international humanitarian law by all parties, without exception, is needed to protect civilians in Afghanistan.”