Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19: July Update for AFGHANISTAN
Impact of COVID-19
Immediate health impacts on people and systems
As of 30 June, some 31,359 people across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan were confirmed to have COVID-19 and 735 people have died. Almost five per cent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases are among healthcare staff. Less than one per cent of the almost 38 million population has been tested. As of the end of June, case numbers were continuing to climb and the peak of the pandemic in the country had not yet passed. Without systemic tracking of mortality and a national death registry, the official death toll of the pandemic is believed to be an under-estimation.
To date, the Government with the support from WHO has established 11 laboratories across 7 provinces with the capacity to test 2,000 cases per day. Limited availability of fully trained medical professional and health workers has led to problems in laboratories which have forced temporary service outages due to contamination.
Accessing healthcare was already not easy for millions of people across the war-torn country and the overstretched health system is further exacerbated by targeted attacks. Between 11 and 23 May 2020, the UN documented 12 incidents in which parties to the conflict carried out deliberate acts of violence or interference with healthcare workers or facilities, affecting healthcare provision during the pandemic.
Indirect impacts on peoples and systems
As a result of the pandemic, a nation-wide polio vaccination programme, originally planned to reach 9.9 million children, has been suspended. This is particularly concerning as 11 cases of polio have been reported since the start of the year in new areas which had not reported cases for several years, primarily Non-State Armed Group-controlled areas where house-to-house vaccination campaigns have been banned since May 2018.
Afghanistan is home to 12.4 million acutely food insecure people (IPC 3 & 4), including almost 4 million at the emergency level, already making it one of the world’s largest hunger crises. Fear of COVID-19 contagion has also reduced access to essential nutrition services. Analysis from the Ministry of Public Health’s nutrition database showed a 46 per cent decrease in admissions for treatment of severe acute malnutrition within health centres – ‘inpatient’ treatment – and a 12 per cent decrease in ‘outpatient’ treatment in May 2020.
The Ministry of Education has extended the suspension of schools until the end of August 2020 resulting in more than 11 million children missing critical education opportunities. Assessment data indicates a surge in child labour with increases in sending children to work or to beg, while nearly half of the respondents reported an increase in violence against children. Exploitation through forced marriage is further reported with over 24 per cent of respondents fearing or reporting having experienced forced marriage, forced labour, trafficking and recruitment into armed groups as a result of COVID-19.
Response priorities and challenges
Priorities and early achievements
Through a revised Humanitarian Response Plan, 11.1 million people are targeted with immediate assistance, up from a planned 7.1 million people at the start of the year. Of the total, 5.4 million will receive COVID-19 related response packages, while a broader 6.8 million will continue to receive other multi-sector humanitarian assistance. Key response highlights include:
Some 34,000 polio surveillance volunteers are engaged in surveillance, case identification and contact tracing. A surveillance system traced more than 500,000 people and screened more than 400,000 people at points-of entry.
More than 4.1 million people have been reached with risk communication and awareness raising messages on COVID-19. Hygiene materials have been distributed to more than 1.9 million vulnerable people. Psychosocial support has reached more than 172,000 people while more than 1.2 million people have also received protection-focused COVID-19 messages. Close to 420,000 people have been reached with awareness raising sessions on prevention that were focused on shelter and household item use.
More than 4 million people have received emergency food assistance and nutrition treatment has been delivered to 126,102 children with severe and moderate acute malnutrition.
This work is being closely coordinated with wider efforts by development actors who have identified 35 million people living in poverty who they plan to reach with a social safety net response.
Challenges and impact to operations
With the suspension of some commercial flights impeding humanitarian movement, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service has stepped up to facilitate and maintain domestic and international flights for humanitarian personnel and goods through an airbridge connecting Kabul and Doha three times a week. Reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the population of Afghanistan and humanitarian personnel is essential to ensure the continuation of service delivery. In June, there has been a surge in suspected cases of COVID-19 among humanitarian personnel. The UN has started work to establish an intensive care unit to enable partners to stay and deliver. This work requires rapid funding and partners are actively seeking funding avenues.