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UN Frees Emergency Funds To Prevent Afghan Health System 'Collapse'

A medical official takes a swab sample for coronavirus. All aspects of Afghanistan's pandemic response have been direly affected by the Taliban takeover, with 1.8 million vaccine doses remaining unused.

The United Nations says it is releasing $45 million to help prevent Afghanistan’s battered health-care system, which the World Health Organization (WHO) said was "on the brink of collapse” following the Taliban’s takeover in mid-August.

Afghanistan's health-care system was plunged into deep crisis after the Taliban swept into power in mid-August, complicating aid deliveries and leaving many health facilities understaffed.

Countries and international aid organizations have suspended disbursements for Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from gaining access to aid money, while tens of thousands of Afghan doctors and other medics have fled the country and many female staff stayed away from work.

"Afghanistan's health system is on the brink of collapse," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and regional director Ahmed al-Mandhari said on September 22 after a visit to Kabul. "Unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe."

In a statement on September 22, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said that $45 million will go to WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), allowing them with the help of partner nongovernmental organizations to keep health facilities operating until the end of the year.

“Medicines, medical supplies and fuel are running out in Afghanistan. Cold chains are compromised. Essential health-care workers are not being paid,” Griffiths said, adding that “allowing Afghanistan’s health-care delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous.”

“People across the country would be denied access to primary health care such as emergency caesarian sections and trauma care.”

Tedros said nine of 37 hospitals treating COVID-19 patients have closed, while “all aspects of the COVID-19 response have dropped, including surveillance, testing, and vaccination.”

While 2.2 million people had been vaccinated before August, immunization rates have “decreased rapidly” in recent weeks, and 1.8 million doses in the country remain unused.

"Swift action is needed to use these doses in the coming weeks," Tedros said.

Because fewer female nurses are going to work, female patients are also staying away from the clinics. However, the WHO continues to invest in training women in this field, it said.

The WHO says it has brought 170 tons of medical supplies to Afghanistan since the Taliban took power. To continue the aid, the WHO needs some 38 million dollars for the next four months.

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