Afghanistan healthcare ‘on brink of collapse’ amid Omicron scare

The diesel gas wanted to provide oxygen for coronavirus sufferers has run out. So have provides of dozens of important medicine. The employees, unpaid for months, nonetheless present up for work, however they’re struggling to make ends meet at home.

This is the plight on the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital, the one COVID-19 facility for the greater than 4 million individuals who reside within the capital, Kabul.

While the coronavirus state of affairs in Afghanistan seems to have improved from a number of months in the past when instances reached their peak, it’s now the hospital itself that wants life assist.

Its predicament is a symptom of the disaster in Afghanistan’s healthcare system, which is “on the brink of collapse” and capable of operate solely with a lifeline from support organisations.

“We face many problems here,” mentioned Dr Ahmad Fatah Habibyar, the hospital’s administration logistics supervisor, citing three months of unpaid salaries, shortages of kit and medicines, and an absence of meals.

Some of the employees are in such monetary difficulties that they’re promoting their family furnishings to make ends meet, he mentioned.

“Oxygen is a big issue for us because we can’t run the generators,” he mentioned, noting the hospital’s manufacturing plant has not labored for months “because we can’t afford the diesel”.

A girl stands subsequent to a affected person in a COVID -19 intensive care unit of the Afghan-Japan hospital in Kabul [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

Instead, oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 sufferers are purchased from an area provider. And medical doctors are bracing for extra infections that they fear are inevitable with the Omicron coronavirus variant.

‘We’re not prepared for Omicron’

Without outdoors assist, “we are not ready for Omicron. A disaster will be here,” mentioned Dr Shereen Agha, the 38-year-old head of the hospital’s intensive care unit.

The hospital was quick even of primary provides like examination gloves, he mentioned, and its two ambulances sit idle for lack of gas.

The earlier authorities had contracted with a Netherlands-based support group, HealthWeb TPO, to run the hospital. But the contract expired in November and was financed underneath a fund managed by the World Bank, which like a lot of the worldwide neighborhood has frozen funds to the brand new Taliban authorities.

HealthWeb TPO programme supervisor Willem Reussing mentioned the organisation is in negotiations to safe funding, “but the donor community is very reluctant to continue support and has strict conditions”.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF had been solely managing to take care of minimal companies and didn’t cowl the coronavirus response, he added.

“The healthcare system … is really on the brink of collapsing,” Reussing mentioned. “The Afghan-Japan hospital is a dire example, where we are nearly begging donors to step in and save lives.”

A nurse takes care of a child within the neonatal intensive care unit of Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

When the Taliban took management of Afghanistan in August amid a chaotic US and NATO troop withdrawal, the worldwide neighborhood pulled all funding and froze billions of {dollars} of Afghanistan’s property overseas. For a rustic closely depending on international support, the penalties have been devastating.

The financial system already was deeply troubled underneath the earlier authorities, with state staff typically going unpaid. Last yr, almost half the inhabitants was living in poverty, with the state of affairs made worse by the pandemic and a drought that has pushed up meals costs.

The Taliban authorities needs the worldwide neighborhood to ease sanctions and launch Afghanistan’s property overseas so it might probably pay civil servants, together with medical doctors and academics.

Hunger disaster

The United Nations has sounded the alarm over a starvation disaster, with 22 p.c of Afghanistan’s 38 million folks near famine and one other 36 p.c dealing with acute meals insecurity.

“We’re seeing the economic collapse being exponential,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths mentioned in an interview final week with The Associated Press information company. “It’s getting more and more dire by the week.”

Nowhere is that extra evident than the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, the place anxious moms sit by emaciated kids.

Two-year-old Mohammad, his cheeks sunken and his hair sparse, sipped a cup of high-nutrition milk along with his mom, Parwana, beside him. From the central province of Wardak, she had been sleeping within the hospital for six nights.

“I don’t even have money to change his diapers,” the 20-year-old mentioned. Her husband, a tailor, misplaced each legs in a roadside bomb a number of years in the past, and has bother sitting up. Work is tough to come back by, and Parwana mentioned her father and brothers are serving to the household of three survive.

Parwana, 20, provides milk to her two-year-old son, Mohammad, as he undergoes remedy within the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

In the subsequent mattress, 18-month-old Talwasa lay coated in blankets. Only her eyes moved behind half-closed eyelids.

“We are in a very bad situation,” mentioned her mom, Noor Bibi, who has six different kids. Her husband can’t discover work, she mentioned, and “we only eat dried bread and can’t find food for weeks and weeks.”

Deputy Health Minister Dr Abdul Bari Omar mentioned final week that Afghanistan had 3.5 million malnourished kids, though he famous that the info was from the earlier authorities.

“It didn’t happen in the last four months. Malnutrition was inherited from the previous system, but we are trying to find a solution for this problem,” he mentioned, including that the previous administration additionally had didn’t resolve shortages of medical tools.

The deputy director of the youngsters’s hospital, Mohammad Latif Baher, mentioned the ability had seen 3,000 malnutrition instances within the final 4 months. Of these, 250 had been hospitalised and the remainder had been handled at home.

Hospital employees are also combating shortages, and so they haven’t been paid for months.

“We are loyal to our homeland and our profession. That’s why we still continue our jobs and provide services to our patients,” Baher mentioned, noting they’ve gone with out salaries for 5 months. He mentioned the hospital is also working low on drug provides, together with particular meals dietary supplements for malnutrition, in addition to antibiotics, analgesics and anaesthetics. Some provides had are available from support businesses, he added, however extra had been wanted.

The state of affairs was comparable at Wazir Mohammad Akhbar Khan National Hospital, the place provides had been working low. As with a lot of the different state-run hospitals, its sufferers should purchase their very own medicine, with employees solely dipping into emergency provides for many who actually can’t afford it.

Sometimes medical doctors are compelled to offer smaller doses of medicine as a result of they merely wouldn’t have sufficient, mentioned Ghulam Nabi Pahlawi, the emergency division’s head nurse.

But it’s in Kabul’s COVID-19 hospital the place the state of affairs appears most extreme. Pharmacist Bilal Ahmad mentioned greater than 36 important medicines had run out and plenty of others had expired. In three months, he mentioned, one other 55 medicines will run out.

“The requirements, we cannot fulfil them,” Ahmad mentioned.

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