- A new Commentary by Dr Ayesha Ahmad, Dr Nazanin Rassa, Dr Miriam Orcutt, Prof Karl Blanchet, Dr Mohammad Haqmal in The Lancet calls for urgent action to prevent worsening of the health and humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.
- Afghan civilians continue to be targeted victims of the armed conflict as violence soars and there are substantial health, humanitarian, and protection needs in the country.
- Afghans who have fought to bring health and justice are being persecuted once again through the Taliban’s door-to-door and social media searches.
- Humanitarian and health organisations report large internal displacement of people in Afghanistan, with 250 000 displaced since May, 2021—and 80 000 children displaced in the past 2 months alone; alongside decreased access to health care and interruption to essential health services.
- The health needs faced by those affected by conflict and displacement also come against the backdrop of a crisis of hunger from recent drought in Afghanistan, with 17 million people facing food insecurity and 2 million children at risk of becoming malnourished.
- Without available and accessible health care or humanitarian aid, the health consequences of continued conflict and displacement, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to be catastrophic.
During August 2021, provincial capitals in Afghanistan and Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. Afghans who have fought to bring health and justice to the country in their roles as officials, health professionals, non-governmental workers, activists, artists, and journalists are being persecuted once again. Strategic targeting by the Taliban of workers for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which has been ongoing for many years, is likely to increase, with the future being uncertain for NGOs, especially those that advocate for women’s health and rights, as to whether they will able to safely operate, receive funds and supplies, or reach marginalised communities.
Over the coming months, there is a significant risk that the collective efforts invested by successive ministers and others, in humanitarian aid, service delivery, and strengthening of the health system in Afghanistan will be lost. As such, to ensure access even to basic health services, vital humanitarian health efforts need to be protected so that they can be safely continued. Currently, the ability to respond to the growing humanitarian needs has reduced substantially, as the UN and humanitarian agencies have been unable to effectively continue the delivery of aid, including medical supplies and food.
Without available and accessible health care or humanitarian aid, the health consequences of continued conflict and displacement, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to be catastrophic. With the freezing of Afghanistan’s international assets, the financial situation in the country is set to deteriorate rapidly, with civilians bearing the brunt of increased poverty. There must be a rapid and effective response by international governments and organisations to the urgent health and humanitarian needs of both those in Afghanistan and those trying to leave the country. The commentary outlines further key action points to prevent worsening of Afghanistan’s health and humanitarian crisis.
Dr Mohammad Haqmal of City, University of London, says: “It is essential to guarantee sustained humanitarian access and an increase in international aid, with secure supply routes for humanitarian agencies. Alternative routes for provision of aid must be secured immediately to avert humanitarian disaster, and mechanisms put in place for the allocation of funds directly to humanitarian agencies in the country.” .
Dr Ayesha Ahmad of the St George’s University of London highlighted that: “Among other urgent health needs are those of children in Afghanistan. NGO personnel working in areas such as prevention of child marriage or gender-based violence have consistently continued to work amid threats and violence. The work of these activists and organisations is essential since victims of gender-based violence are often silenced in Afghanistan. It is also essential to consider the long-term and generational mental health and traumatic impacts of childhood exposure to war and conflict-related violence in our health responses. ” .
Professor Karl Blanchet, Director of the Centre of Humanitarian Studies, University of Geneva added: “As a public health and research community, we have the responsibility of solidarity vis-à-vis all our Afghan peers who have dedicated their life to population health. We have many means in our hands to pay back our gratitude and protect our colleagues stranded in Kabul” .
Dr Miriam Orcutt at the Institute for Global Health, University College London said: “In order to address the needs of those displaced, international governments should immediately provide sanctuary for refugees forced to leave Afghanistan, ensuring effective routes to safety and urgent humanitarian visas; stop deportations to Afghanistan; not criminalise those who reach other countries in search of safety; and, in the longer-term, implement resettlement schemes. The needs of those internally displaced within Afghanistan must also be prioritised by humanitarian and international organisations” .
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The commentary was originally published in The Lancet on 26 August 2021: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01963-2/fulltext
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