Afghanistan’s health care system on the brink of collapse

Dec 15, 2021, 8:07 AM | Updated: Dec 16, 2021, 9:08 am
A nurse takes care of a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit of Malalai Maternity hospital in K...

A nurse takes care of a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit of Malalai Maternity hospital in Kabul Afghanistan, on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. Afghanistan's health care system, is on the brink of collapse and to function only with a lifeline from aid organisations. (AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris)

(AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The diesel fuel needed to produce oxygen for coronavirus patients has run out. So have supplies of dozens of essential drugs. The staff, unpaid for months, still shows up for work, but they are struggling to make ends meet at home.

This is the plight at the Afghan-Japan Hospital for communicable diseases, the only COVID-19 facility for the more than 4 million people who live in the capital of Kabul. While the coronavirus situation in Afghanistan appears to have improved from a few months ago when cases reached their peak, it is now the hospital itself that needs life support.

Its predicament is a symptom of the crisis in Afghanistan’s health care system, which is on the brink of collapse and able to function only with a lifeline from aid organizations.

“We face many problems here,” said Dr. Ahmad Fatah Habibyar, the hospital’s administration logistics manager, citing three months of unpaid salaries, shortages of equipment and drugs, and a lack of food.

Some of the staff are in such financial difficulties that they are selling their household furniture to make ends meet, he said.

“Oxygen is a big issue for us because we can’t run the generators,” he said, noting the hospital’s production plant hasn’t worked for months “because we can’t afford the diesel.” Instead, oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 patients are bought from a local supplier.

And doctors are bracing for more infections that they fear are inevitable with the omicron variant.

Without outside help, “we are not ready for omicron. A disaster will be here,” said Dr. Shereen Agha, the 38-year-old head of the hospital’s intensive care unit. The hospital was short even of basic supplies like examination gloves, he said, and its two ambulances sit idle for lack of fuel.

The previous government had contracted with a Netherlands-based aid group, HealthNet TPO, to run the hospital. But the contract expired in November and was financed under a fund managed by the World Bank, which like most of the international community has frozen payments to the new Taliban government.

HealthNet TPO program manager Willem Reussing said the organization is in negotiations to secure funding, “but the donor community is very reluctant to continue support and has strict conditions.” The World Health Organization and UNICEF were only managing to maintain minimal services and did not cover the coronavirus response, he added.

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

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August amid a chaotic U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal, the international community pulled all funding and froze billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s assets abroad. For a country heavily dependent on foreign aid, the consequences have been devastating.

The economy already was deeply troubled under the previous government, with state employees often going unpaid. Last year, almost half the population was living in poverty, with the situation made worse by the pandemic and a drought that has driven up food prices.

The Taliban government wants the international community to ease sanctions and release Afghanistan’s assets abroad so it can pay civil servants, including doctors and teachers.

The United Nations has sounded the alarm over a hunger crisis, with 22% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people near famine and another 36% facing acute food insecurity.

“We’re seeing the economic collapse being exponential,” U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in an interview last week with The Associated Press. “It’s getting more and more dire by the week.”

Nowhere is that more evident than the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, where anxious mothers sit by emaciated children.

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

“I don’t even have money to change his diapers,” the 20-year-old said. Her husband, a tailor, lost both legs in a roadside bomb several years ago, and has trouble sitting up. Work is hard to come by, and Parwana said her father and brothers are helping the family of three survive.

In the next bed, 1½-year-old Talwasa lay covered in blankets. Only her eyes moved behind half-closed eyelids.

“We are in a very bad situation,” said her mother, Noor Bibi, who has six other children. Her husband can’t find work, she said, and “we only eat dried bread and can’t find food for weeks and weeks.”

Deputy Health Minister Dr. Abdul Bari Omar said last week that Afghanistan had 3.5 million malnourished children, although he noted that the data was from the previous government.

“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 said, adding that the former administration also had failed to resolve shortages of medical equipment.

The deputy director of the children’s hospital, Mohammad Latif Baher, said the facility had seen 3,000 malnutrition cases in the last four months. Of those, 250 were hospitalized and the rest were treated at home.

Hospital workers also are struggling with shortages, and they have not 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 said, noting they have gone without salaries for five months. He said the hospital also is running low on drug supplies, including special food supplements for malnutrition, as well as antibiotics, analgesics and anesthetics. Some supplies had come in from aid agencies, he added, but more were needed.

The situation was similar at Wazir Mohammed Akhbar Khan National Hospital, where supplies were running low. As with most of the other state-run hospitals, its patients must buy their own drugs, with staff only dipping into emergency supplies for those who truly cannot afford it.

Sometimes doctors are forced to give smaller doses of drugs because they simply don’t have enough, said Ghulam Nabi Pahlawi, the emergency department’s head nurse.

But it is in Kabul’s COVID-19 hospital where the situation seems most severe. Pharmacist Bilal Ahmad said more than 36 essential medications had run out and many others had expired. In three months, he said, another 55 medications will run out.

“The requirements, we cannot fulfill them,” Ahmad said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Chesapeake Bay lighthouse auctioned, with strings attached

HOOPERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — The federal government has sold off a rather inhospitable lighthouse in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay for a six-figure sum after a bidding war at auction. The Hooper Island Lighthouse, located west of Middle Hooper Island in Maryland’s Dorchester County, at first drew little interest, The Washington Post reported. But […]
2 days ago
Gabriel Madling loads sandbags onto his kayak so he can fortify his house on a submerged street in ...
Associated Press

Ian is long gone but water keeps rising in central Florida

GENEVA, Fla. (AP) — Residents in central Florida donned fishing waders, boots and bug spray and canoed or kayaked to their homes on streets where floodwaters continued rising Sunday despite it being four days since Hurricane Ian tore through the state. The waters flooded homes and streets that had been passable just a day or […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

FBI: Jetliner evacuated in Albuquerque after security threat

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An American Airlines flight from Texas to New Mexico was evacuated Sunday after landing at the Albuquerque airport because of a security threat, authorities said. All 179 people aboard Flight 928 from Dallas-Fort Worth were taken off the jet in the morning at Albuquerque International Sunport and were bused to the […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Phone alerts responders after car hits tree, killing all 6

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A passenger’s cellphone automatically alerted responders after a car hit a tree early Sunday in a Nebraska crash that killed all six of its young occupants, authorities said. Five men in the car died at the scene of the crash around 2:15 a.m. in Lincoln, about 3 miles east of the […]
2 days ago
Indonesian soccer fans chant slogans during a candle light vigil for the victims of Saturday's socc...
Associated Press

Soccer world reacts to disaster at Indonesia stadium

MADRID (AP) — A minute of silence was observed before soccer matches around the world on Sunday in honor of victims of the disaster at a stadium in Indonesia that claimed at least 125 lives, and top players, coaches and leagues sent condolences and messages of support. Most of the victims were trampled upon or […]
2 days ago
In this undated surveillance image released by the Stockton Police Department, a person is shown fr...
Associated Press

Killings of 5 men in California are related, police say

STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — Rewards totaling $85,000 have been offered for information leading to an arrest in five fatal shootings since July in Stockton, California, that investigators believe are related, police said. After reviewing surveillance footage, detectives have located an unidentified “person of interest” in the killings, Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden wrote on the […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Afghanistan’s health care system on the brink of collapse