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Afghanistan Testing Just 20 Percent Of Suspected Cases As Virus Spreads

A patient who is infected with COVID-19 receives medical care at a hospital in Kabul on June 1.
A patient who is infected with COVID-19 receives medical care at a hospital in Kabul on June 1.

Afghanistan is testing only about 20 percent of its daily suspected coronavirus cases, officials and experts said, as confirmed infections crossed 17,000 in the impoverished country on June 3.

Afghan health authorities reported 758 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking the number of total confirmed infections to 17,257.

"The Health Ministry is really concerned about the spread of the virus," Deputy Health Minister Waheed Majroh told reporters. "Unfortunately, the number of cases nationwide is more than what we record daily. We have capacity to conduct up to 2,000 tests a day, but the demand is way more."

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement on June 2 that "between 80 to 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested," citing figures provided to them by the Health Ministry that said between 10,000 and 20,000 samples were being received per day.

The charity warned that Afghanistan was on the brink of a health crisis after confirmed cases spiked by 684 percent in May.

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tests coming back positive -- about 40 percent -- the IRC said, indicating high levels of undetected infections.

The IRC urged the international community to work with Afghanistan to improve its testing capacity.

Four decades of war have devastated the healthcare system, Vicki Aken, IRC head in Afghanistan, said in the statement. "Many health clinics do not have the proper protective gear to treat or refer COVID-19 patients and are turning away those showing signs and symptoms," Aken said.

The spike in cases came after Afghanistan grappled with rising violence in recent months that diverted vital attention and resources away from the fight against the disease.

The country's few hospitals focus mainly on basic care and trauma wounds and lack the expertise and equipment needed to deal with infectious diseases.

The virus's spread has surged amid a nationwide lockdown that residents have largely ignored, with many preferring to take their chances with the disease than lose a day's work.