Rampaging COVID-19 the latest threat to people after the fall of Kabul

As of Tuesday, WHO recorded 7442 deaths and close to 167,000 infections in the country since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago. Without large-scale testing, these relatively low figures are believed to be a result of extreme under-reporting.

Masks for sales in Kabul. The Taliban have launched awareness and vaccine campaigns but “people aren’t listening”.

Masks for sales in Kabul. The Taliban have launched awareness and vaccine campaigns but “people aren’t listening”.Credit:AP

Meanwhile, the new Taliban administration says it is trying to push vaccines on a sceptical population that often sees them as dangerous.

With 3.2 million vaccine doses in stock, Hazhir said the administration has launched a campaign through mosques, clerics and mobile vaccine clinics to get more people vaccinated. Currently barely 27 per cent of the 38 million population has been vaccinated, most with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Getting Afghans to follow even a minimum of safety protocols, like mask-wearing and social distancing, has been near impossible, Liwal said. For many struggling to feed their families, COVID-19 ranks low on their list of fears, he said. The Public Health Ministry has run awareness campaigns about the value of masks and social distancing, but most people aren’t listening.

Even in the Afghan Japan hospital, where signs warn people that mask-wearing is mandatory, most people in the dimly lit halls were without masks. In the intensive care unit, where half of the 10 patients in the ward were on ventilators, doctors and attendants wore only surgical masks and gowns for protection as they moved from bed to bed.


The head of the unit, Dr Naeemullah, said he needed more ventilators and, even more urgently, he needed doctors trained on using ventilators. He was overstretched and rarely paid, but felt duty-bound to serve his patients. Liwal said several doctors have left Afghanistan.

Most of the hospital’s 200 employees come to work regularly despite months without pay.

In December, a US-based charity affiliated with Johns Hopkins University provided two months funding, which gave the hospital staff their December salary and a promise of another paycheck in January. The Public Health Ministry is now in negotiations with WHO to take over the cost of running the hospital through June, said Liwal.

Liwal said other Kabul hospitals used to be able to take some patients, but now no longer have the resources. With a lack of funds and staff leaving, 33 facilities offering COVID-19 treatment nationwide have shut down.

The Afghan Japan hospital’s only microbiologist, Dr Faridullah Qazizada, earned less than $US1000 a month before the Taliban took power. He has received only one month’s salary since August, he said. He says his equipment and facilities are barely adequate.

“The whole health system has been destroyed,” he said.


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