Only five hospitals in the country offer Covid-19 treatment, with 33 others having been forced to close in recent months for lack of doctors, medicines and even heat.

Between January 30 and February 5, public laboratories in Afghanistan tested 8,496 samples, of which nearly half were positive for Covid-19.
Between January 30 and February 5, public laboratories in Afghanistan tested 8,496 samples, of which nearly half were positive for Covid-19. (AP)

Economically devastated Afghanistan has been hit by a steep rise in the number of reported coronavirus cases.

“The situation is worsening day by day,” Dr Mohammed Gul Liwal, director at Kabul’s only Covid-19 treatment hospital, said on Wednesday speaking inside a chilly conference room. 

The Omicron variant is hitting Afghanistan hard, Liwal said, but he admits it is just a guess because the country is still waiting for kits that test specifically for the variant. 

They were supposed to arrive before the end of last month, said Public Health Ministry spokesman Dr Javid Hazhir. The World Health Organization now says Afghanistan will get the kits by the end of February.

The organisation says that between January 30 and February 5, public laboratories in Afghanistan tested 8,496 samples, of which nearly half, were positive for Covid-19. Those numbers translate into a 47.4 percent positivity rate, the world health body said.

As of Tuesday, the WHO recorded 7,442 deaths and close to 167,000 infections since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago. In the absence of large-scale testing, these relatively low figures are believed to be a result of extreme under-reporting.

Only five hospitals in Afghanistan offer Covid-19 treatment, with 33 others having been forced to close in recent months for lack of doctors, medicines and even heat. 

And, since the Taliban takeover almost six months ago, hospital employees have received only one month’s salary, in December.

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'Low on Afghan people's list of fears'

The facility, called the Afghan Japan Communicable Disease Hospital, has 100 beds. The Covid-19 ward is almost always full as the virus rages. 

Before late January, the hospital was getting one or two new coronavirus patients a day. In the past two weeks, 10 to 12 new patients have been admitted daily, Liwal said. 

The staff can only heat the building at night because of lack of fuel, even as winter temperatures drop below freezing during the day. Patients are bundled under heavy blankets. Its director Liwal said they need everything from oxygen to medicine supplies.

Afghanistan’s health care system, which survived for nearly two decades almost entirely on international donor funding, has been devastated since the Taliban returned to power in August following the chaotic end to the 20-year US-led invasion. 

The health system collapse has only worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Roughly 90 percent of the population has fallen below the poverty level, and with families barely able to afford food, at least a million children are threatened with starvation.

Currently, barely 27 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million people have been vaccinated, most with the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. 

Getting Afghans to follow even a minimum of safety protocols, like mask wearing and social distancing, has been near impossible, Liwal said. 

For many struggling to feed their families, Covid-19 ranks low on their list of fears, he said. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies