COVID-19 pandemic threatens Afghanistan

Afghanistan is already one of the world’s poorest countries. It is plagued by a limited health care system and few medical personnel, weak infrastructure, and poor social cohesion after 40 years of war. In addition, it is facing a large influx of some 400,000 refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan between 2020 and 2022. Now the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to undermine the country’s peace process, overwhelm its health care system, and slash economic output 17 percent by 2023, according to a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assessment.


The virus was first reported in February in the border city of Herat, in a refugee returning from Iran. Within a month, the virus spread to Balkh, Samangan, Kandahar, and Kabul provinces. As of 28 May, the government reported a total of 13,036 confirmed COVID-19 cases out of 34,936 samples taken in 33 of 34 Afghan provinces. With low transmission rates, some 46,000 infections would require additional health spending of US$122 million. With moderate transmission rates, Afghanistan could see 110,000 infections requiring US$225 million, while higher rates could see 190,000 cases at an additional cost of US$390 million. The government lacks revenue and resources to mitigate this pandemic.


With financial support from the Global Fund, UNDP has helped strengthen Afghanistan’s laboratory and diagnosis capacity nationally and provided technical assistance to train 25 regional and provincial laboratory staff in the use of high-tech equipment. The country’s central public laboratory can now process 200 to 300 samples every 24 hours, while laboratories can process 150 daily in Herat, 100 in Balkh, 100 to 150 in Nangarhar, and 120 to 150 in Kandahar province.


In partnership with the Ministry of Interior Affairs, UNDP is operationalizing five new hospital facilities to quarantine, isolate, and treat infected Afghan National Police personnel. These hospitals will receive health equipment and medical supplies and comprise some 300 beds, with quarantine facilities and intensive care units, across five provinces.


UNDP is repurposing and mobilizing funds to support Afghanistan's initial national response, prevention and mitigation activities, and preparation for longer-term development interventions in subsequent phases. With international partners, it’s working to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and other health supplies and establish 22 fixed health centers and 10 mobile health teams, which will significantly expand prevention, diagnosis, and management of COVID-19. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in about 170 countries and territories, helping to achieve the eradication of poverty, and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion. We help countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience in order to sustain development results.


Photo: UNDP Afghanistan


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