Afghanistan’s Healthcare under Taliban Takeover
By Aleena Kuriakose
Prior to the Taliban taking over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, the country’s healthcare system was fragile and did not provide adequate care.
Under the Taliban, the Afghanistan healthcare system is on the brink of collapse.
Digital health provides hope for Afghanistan refugees.
Before Taliban Takeover in 2021
Prior to Taliban takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan’s medical healthcare system had still continued to struggle under constant instability, disease, and war. The peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) were ineffective and barely made progress. Instead, bloody wars between armed rivalries and government forces resulted in the deaths of thousands of lives each year at the simultaneous expense of demolishing infrastructure.
Due to continuous war and bloodshed, healthcare facilities in Afghanistan are attacked more often than almost anywhere else in the world, causing closures and depriving millions of people from accessing crucial medical care. Furthermore, the humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by health and socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic, had been worsening throughout the country. Many Afghans are burdened with financial hardships as numerous people lost their jobs due to border closures, reduced economic activity, etc.
A briefing paper produced by the international medical humanitarian association Doctors Without Borders featured medical reports from patients, caretakers, and clinical staff located in Helmand, Herat, Kandahar, and Khost provinces. These reports revealed that many Afghans are still struggling to access essential necessities; this inadequacy can be attributed to the violence, insecurity, and poverty that govern the nation as well as an under-funded and under-resourced healthcare system. In order to just seek medical care, Afghans must risk their lives and undergo a perilous journey across active frontlines and mined roads and through checkpoints and areas regulated by the military. Because of the dangerous road to medical care, many Afghans stay at home, and medical emergencies proved to be fatal.
"At a time when an urgent humanitarian response was required to protect every life in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and Afghan national security forces carried out deliberate acts of violence that undermined health-care operations," said Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban swept through the capital of Kabul, endangering Afghanistan's already fragile healthcare system.
Taliban Takeover: Afghanistan’s Current Healthcare System
Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the new Taliban regime so that healthcare systems may not be negatively impacted. The WHO warns that medical lifeline, including essential health services and medical services, must not be cut as there has been more than a threefold rise in the number of trauma cases.
“Sustained access to humanitarian assistance, including essential health services and medical supplies, is a critical lifeline for millions of Afghans, and must not be interrupted,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
However, many aid agencies warn that the Afghan healthcare system is at risk of collapse. Already, international donors such as the World Bank and European Union froze their funding to Afghanistan shortly after Taliban regained military control over Kabul. The already weak healthcare system is being strained with limited resources and shortage of staff.
“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). “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.”
In terms of addressing the issue, the WHO had made efforts to dispatch trauma and burns kit equipment to Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan hospital and enough basic medical kits to treat 10,000 people for three months. The WHO senior official has also insisted that the health UN agency is dedicated to staying in Afghanistan despite the uncertain conditions of the Taliban Takeover.
Hope for Digital Health to Help Refugees
Albeit the plight in Afghanistan, there is hope that digital health and technology can serve to aid refugees in accessing necessary medical care and other important social aspects of health such as housing, employment, and education.
For instance, Airbnb, and its independent nonprofit organization, Airbnb.org, have committed to providing free temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees. Inspired by these efforts, a multi-specialty telehealth provider called Hims and Hers shared that it would donate 10,000 free primary care and mental health visits to Afghan refugees. Cera, a U.K. tech home provider that utilizes technology to deploy services such as social care, nursing and repeat prescriptions in people's homes, pledged to recruit, train, and employ 500 Afghan refugees as carers.
The situation in Afghanistan is an uncertain one, and medical services are underfunded and without enough resources. Thousands of Afghans are displaced and suffering as well as living in fear, requiring medical care and mental support. Organizations such as the WHO and UN, however, are putting in efforts to provide refugee relief and essential supplies. Tech companies are also implementing policies that would benefit Afghan refugees. As of now, the state of Afghanistan as well as refugee arrivals is unpredictable, but let us hope that humanitarian aid will be sent safely in the midst of dynamic conflict and flaring violence in the country.
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