This week, Afghanistan confirmed its first case of coronavirus; at least 10 further cases are suspected, all traced to neighboring Iran. Afghanistan finds itself moving from preparing for an outbreak to containing one at the same time.
“We will need more of everything,” said Dr. Mohammed Khan, one of the head physicians at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital on the outskirts of Kabul, which has been designated the main treatment facility for coronavirus patients in the capital.
Khan’s lengthy list includes protective medical gear, machines to diagnose the virus, more ventilation machines – and training to keep staff safe. The intensive care unit has a few beds, and the 60-bed clinic has just been boosted to accommodate 100 patients. The World Health Organization and others have been helping the country get ready for the coronavirus since January, but there’s a funding gap of at least $3.5 million, the WHO said.
One clear sign of the shortfalls: Khan’s hospital, Kabul’s main treatment center for coronavirus patients, cannot yet diagnose the disease. The country’s only three devices capable of diagnosing the coronavirus disease from test kits are located in a separate laboratory in Kabul. This is where samples from other provinces are being sent for diagnosis; each test takes between four to six hours.
It’s not an ideal scenario for a country separated by vast distances and often-inaccessible conflict areas. For now, the hallways at Khan’s hospital are empty. But there’s a nervous undertone when staff here speak of what may come. “Of course it’s scary,” said Ahmedi. “There’s been a lot of fear-mongering and the health system in our country is largely underfunded.”
Afghanistan’s health system is a casualty of its decades-long conflict, and local and international aid groups are often relied on to fill the gaps in care. The Global Health Security Index, an analysis of countries’ epidemic preparedness published last year, lists Afghanistan as one of the world’s least prepared countries.
[The New Humanitarian]