Afghanistan’s health care system is in danger of collapse, two major aid organizations have told Reuters news agency, after foreign donors stopped providing aid following the Taliban takeover.
After the United States withdrew most of its remaining troops last month, the Taliban accelerated their military campaign, take control of the capital Kabul on August 15.
International donors, including the World Bank and the European Union, froze funding to Afghanistan shortly afterwards.
“One of the big risks to the health system here is that it will collapse from lack of support,” said Filipe Ribeiro, Afghan representative for Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), one of the largest medical aid agencies in the world. country.
“The general health system in Afghanistan has been understaffed, underequipped and underfunded for years. And the big risk is that this underfunding will persist in the long run.”
Necephor Mghendi, Afghan head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), said the health care system — already fragile and heavily dependent on foreign aid — was under additional pressure.
“The humanitarian needs on the ground are huge,” he said.
Both aid agencies said that while their ground operations were largely unaffected, they had seen a significant increase in demand as other facilities are unable to fully function.
Mghendi said closures of Afghan banks had left almost all humanitarian organizations without access to funds, leaving vendors and staff unpaid.
Adding to the problem, medical supplies now need to be replenished earlier than expected.
“Stocks that were supposed to last three months can’t last three months. We may need to replenish much sooner,” Mghendi said.
Ribeiro said Médecins Sans Frontières had been stockpiling medical supplies before the takeover, but with the disrupted flights and disorder at land borders, it was unclear when more could reach the country.
Shipping of health supplies arrives
The World Health Organization said on Monday that a plane carrying 12.5 tons of medicines and health supplies had landed in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, the first such shipment since the Taliban took control.
The WHO said the plane, which flew from Dubai, will deliver supplies to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across the country.
The supplies — including trauma and emergency kits — are enough to cover the basic needs of more than 200,000 people, provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients, the WHO added.
“After days of working non-stop to find a solution… we are now able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan,” said Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Humanitarian organizations such as the WHO have faced enormous challenges in recent weeks in shipping life-saving supplies to Afghanistan due to security and logistical constraints,” al-Mandhari added.
He further thanked Pakistan for providing the plane for the delivery.
It was the first of three scheduled flights with Pakistan International Airlines, and the WHO said it is working to ensure “this week’s shipment is the first of many”.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride reporting from Kabul said the flight from Dubai “opens up the greater potential for air routes to Afghanistan.
“Mazar-i-Sharif is a big important city in the north, it has a big important airport. Before the collapse of the government, there were international flights there, so this is confirmation that they have restored air traffic control, which seems to be paving the way for Kabul,” McBride said.
“As soon as the US leaves, they will take air traffic control with them and the Taliban will not only restore the airport, but also restore their air traffic control.
“It offers a way forward that everyone here seems to want to see – the government, the aid organizations and of course the population – because that would ultimately mean the return of commercial flights,” McBride said.
The WHO has warned that Afghanistan could soon face a shortage of medical personnel, as those fleeing the country include staff and female health workers fearing that they will stay away from their jobs.
During the Taliban’s reign from 1996-2001, the Taliban had an uneasy relationship with foreign aid organizations, eventually displacing many, including Doctors Without Borders, in 1998.
This time, the group has said it welcomes foreign donors and will protect the rights of foreign and local personnel — a promise it has so far kept, Ribeiro said.
“They’re actually asking us to stay, and they’re asking us to continue our operations as we ran them before,” he said. “The relationships have been pretty reassuring so far.”