Growing Impact of COVID 19 in Afghanistan

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The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of the people of Afghanistan. There are fears concerning unreported cases, lack of access to healthcare, poor access to education, and the safety of women and children. In April and May, 13.4 million people were either in crisis or at emergency levels of food insecurity, with the number of people at emergency levels increasing to 4.3 million. The UN estimates that 14 million people in Afghanistan, including 8.12 million children, will need help to survive 2020.

There are grave concerns regarding the impact the pandemic will have on Afghanistan’s already fragile economy. An ActionAid survey found that 50% of respondents have lost their income, and around 40% are borrowing food to survive. The World Bank warns that the number people living in poverty is likely to increase from 55 percent to up to 72 percent in 2020, due to the rising prices of food and declining incomes.

There remains a distinct lack of testing, limited access to healthcare, and poor advice regarding hygiene and social distancing. Overall, less than 0.5% of the population have been tested, with 43% of results returning positive. A survey conducted by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health suggests that 31.5% of the total population—around 10 million people—have been infected. This varies between provinces, with Kabul showing a 53% infection rate. Afghanistan’s 11 testing facilities are poorly operated, and a serious lack of precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of healthcare workers. There are only 300 ventilators available countrywide, and many healthcare staff have not been trained in how to use them.

Both the Afghan Government and the Taliban have carried out attacks targeting healthcare workers and facilities; 12 of which were deliberate. The most horrific of these targeted a maternity ward in Kabul, killing 24 people. It remains unclear who was behind the attack. The Taliban have also been recorded to have abducted 23 healthcare workers.

The pandemic has severely impacted the wellbeing of Afghanistan’s children. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Afghanistan’s child study rates were already rapidly falling. School closures have only deepened concerns regarding education. According to a study performed by The World Bank, it’s estimated that only 14% of Afghanistan has connection to the internet, meaning that the majority of children do not have access to distance learning. Fears have also been raised regarding an increase in child marriage. Families are more likely to marry their daughters off in times of economic stress as a way to avoid the responsibility of caring for them. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 35% of Afghan girls married before the age of 18.

It’s feared that Afghanistan’s lockdown is triggering an increase in domestic violence. In a recent survey conducted by ActionAid, 43% of respondents reported a rise of family violence since the beginning of the lockdown period. However, their justice sector reports a decrease in cases, indicating that women are having difficulty accessing resources due to movement restrictions and closure of government agencies.

Despite the lockdown and movement restrictions, the doors of Mahboba’s Promise are still open to the widows and orphans of Afghanistan, and we are trying our best to keep them safe and well. Thanks to the generous donations received so far, we have distributed hygiene kits, including masks, gloves, and information regarding physical distancing.

Looking forward, Mahboba’s Promise aims to continue providing disease prevention kits and safe access to adequate healthcare. We require supplies to maintain cleanliness and hygiene within the Hope Houses and other facilities we operate— a total of 1545 kits. We aim to implement temporary measures to support families by providing food and rental relief for those who are unable to work from home, and curriculum-based home-school kits for children, containing learning plans, essential stationery supplies, notebooks, and textbooks.

-Emily White and Roy Barnes

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