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UN frees funds to prevent Afghan health system collapse

22 September 2021   |   1:05 pm
The UN released emergency funds on Wednesday to help prevent Afghanistan's battered healthcare system from collapsing, with the WHO chief warning of an imminent catastrophe.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths delivers a speech during a hosts aid conference on Afghanistan, in Geneva on September 13, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The UN released emergency funds on Wednesday to help prevent Afghanistan’s battered healthcare system from collapsing, with the WHO chief warning of an imminent catastrophe.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said he had released $45 million, warning in a statement that “medicines, medical supplies and fuel are running out in Afghanistan”.

“Cold chains are compromised. Essential health-care workers are not being paid,” he said.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system was plunged into crisis after the Taliban swept into power last month, complicating aid deliveries and leaving many health facilities understaffed.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been visiting Kabul, meeting Taliban leaders as well as patients and hospital workers.

“Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe,” he said in a statement.

‘Hour of need’
Griffiths said he was releasing funds from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund.

“Allowing Afghanistan’s healthcare delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous,” he said.

“People across the country would be denied access to primary health care such as emergency caesarian sections and trauma care.”

The funds, he said, would go to the UN’s health and children’s agencies, allowing them with the help of partner NGOs to keep hospitals, Covid-19 centres and other health facilities operating until the end of the year.

“The UN is determined to stand by the people of Afghanistan in their hour of need,” Griffiths said.

Tedros said nine of 37 Covid-19 hospitals had closed while all aspects of the pandemic response have dropped, including surveillance, testing and vaccination.

While 2.2 million people had been vaccinated before August, immunisation rates have decreased rapidly in recent weeks, and 1.8 million doses lay idle.

“Swift action is needed to use these doses in the coming weeks,” Tedros said.

‘Impossible’ rules
Tens of thousands of skilled Afghans, including doctors, have fled the country.

The situation has been further complicated by women staying away from work out of fear of reprisals.

Some women who have tried to return have complained about being unable to operate properly after local Taliban officials ordered that they must be segregated from men.

“If I go there, they say: ‘Do not work with this style of dress. Do not work with men. Work with women.’ This is impossible,” 27-year-old nurse Latifa Alizada told AFP.

“For us, there is no difference between men and women, because we are medical workers.”

Earlier this month, she left her role at a Kabul hospital because she was told there was no money to pay salaries.

A midwife who works for a foreign NGO in Lashkar Gah told AFP last month she was told to stay home by her employer until there was more clarity from the Taliban.

“I’m really not happy because I need the money,” she said.