The WHO (World Health Organization) fears that the unrest caused by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan could lead to a fourth wave of Covid deaths in the country. The risk, according to the entity, was high by at least five factors.
The first is the significant displacement of people unable to maintain their distance, which increases the chances of transmission of the coronavirus and also the spread of the disease across the country. About 3.7 million people are homeless, or about 10% of the Afghan population, according to the European Commission.
Since the start of 2021, political violence and the advance of the Taliban have driven 400,000 Afghans from their homes, according to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The second risk factor for a fourth wave of the pandemic is that only 2 million Afghans (5% of the total) have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, and only 400,000 have been fully immunized.
Low vaccination coverage keeps the risk of an increase in the number of cases, but also of serious illness and death caused by the coronavirus at a high level.
Mortality may also increase due to the population’s reduced access to health services following the takeover by the Taliban. Rana Hajjeh, WHO’s director of operations in the Middle East, said on Tuesday that insecurity had caused the attendance of patients, mostly women and children, to plummet.
The victory of the extremist group also prompted some Afghan WHO workers to quit work out of fear, according to the organization’s representative in the country, Dapeng Luo. Despite this, 95% of some 2,200 units continued to operate in 34 Afghan provinces.
A fourth complicating factor is that WHO’s medical supplies in Afghanistan will run out this week if commercial flights remain banned and the organization cannot find alternative transportation, regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari said. .
According to him, around 500 tonnes of medicine, equipment and food are in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, awaiting a logistics solution, and WHO stocks in Afghanistan have already been 70% consumed.
Lack of humanitarian aid is a serious problem in the Afghan case as half of the population — or 18 million people — depend on it for survival. This is the fifth factor that can lead to a worsening of the pandemic, as malnutrition and physical vulnerability affect a large number of inhabitants.
According to Dapeng Luo, even before the advance of the Taliban, the country was already home to one of the three largest humanitarian crises in the world, due to famine, exacerbated by a severe drought, and the Covid pandemic.
In an attempt to get humanitarian aid through, WHO is negotiating with three countries the possibility of boarding their containers on flights to Kabul to repatriate their Afghan citizens and embassy staff, said the regional director of emergencies, Richard Brennan.
The main concern for now is internally displaced people, al-Mandhari said. WHO data indicates that there has been no massive influx of refugees to neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. “However, we are discussing the issue with Afghanistan’s neighbors and we are mobilizing our staff in those countries.”
There have also been negotiations with the Taliban, said Richard Brennan, who said he was “cautiously optimistic”. According to him, the extremist group has appointed a high representative for the health zone, who met with the WHO on Monday and demanded that the entity and other UN agencies continue to function normally.
According to him, there is nothing to indicate that the new government is opposed to vaccination against Covid, one of the priorities of the WHO. The organization is also particularly concerned about sustaining the progress made in women’s and children’s health, Brennan said.
Over the past 20 years, maternal mortality has been reduced by two-thirds, infant mortality by 50%. Afghanistan, however, has recorded one case of wild polio again this year, and a break in childhood vaccinations could have serious consequences.