WHO mulls options to ship medical supplies to Afghanistan
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is considering several means to bring in the much-needed supplies into Afghanistan with medical stocks dwindling in the country and Kabul airport crippled by a terrorist attack.
A senior official and Regional Emergency Director, WHO Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Rick Brennan, told journalists on Friday at bi-weekly UN briefing in Geneva that the agency had a few days supplies left.
“We have only a few days of supplies left and we’re exploring all options to bring more medicines into the country,’’ he said.
Pakistan is supporting efforts to fly in humanitarian supplies, and most likely through the airport in Mazar-i-Sharīi, he said, with the first flight hopefully leaving in the coming days.
Prior to the attack, WHO had planned three airlifts of trauma kits, emergency health kits, essential medicines and supplies, but the items remained grounded due to security and operational issues at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The blasts on Thursday targeted Afghans fleeing the country and military personnel securing the facility.
More than 160 people were killed, according to media reports. The Islamic State in Khorosan Province (ISKP) has claimed responsibility.
Although around 97 per cent of the roughly 2,200 health facilities in Afghanistan are functioning, they are running short of supplies to treat people affected by conflict, displacement, drought, malnutrition, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of security concerns and several other operational considerations, Kabul airport is not going to be an option for the next week at least,” Brennan said.
“One of the challenges we have in Afghanistan right now is there’s no Civil Aviation Authority functioning.
“But we are working with the Pakistanis, particularly in the context of Mazar-i-Sharif Airport, because they can work with contacts on the ground to ensure that all the necessary steps to land an aircraft, to land a cargo aircraft, can be put in place”.
He added that insurance costs for bringing an aircraft into Afghanistan have “skyrocketed” overnight, reaching prices never seen before.
“We’re trying to jump through that hoop at the moment,” said Brennan.
The terrorist attack has accelerated tensions and volatility in a country where nearly half the population, or 18 million people, were already dependent on humanitarian relief even before the Taliban seized power.
Asked about the impact the attack had on hospitals in Kabul, Brennan reported that a WHO partner, the Italian NGO Emergency, which runs a trauma hospital in the city, has been “overwhelmed” in treating victims, who reportedly number more than 200.
“Of course, getting access to supplies is urgent, and we understand that they’ve got great pressure on their supplies right now. So our proposed air shipment in the next couple of days will be bringing in more trauma kits,” he said.
Even though Afghanistan falls short of international standards in availability of doctors and nurses for its population, thousands of health professionals were also trained during this period, including women doctors, nurses, midwives and others.
“Already we’re hearing that some female health workers are not attending work and that there has been a decline in the attendance of women and children at some facilities.
“This again highlights the need to ensure the availability of medical supplies to support female health workers in their work and to encourage families to bring their mothers, females, girls and children to seek healthcare when they need it,” Brennan said.
On why women health workers were reluctant to go to work, Brennan said WHO assumed they were being cautious as the agency had not received any reports about physical or other restrictions blocking women from their jobs.
Looking ahead, WHO will be working with donors, partners and the Afghan health authorities in the coming weeks to ensure continued support for the country’s health system.
“For the past week or so, the eyes of the world have been focused on that major air operation at Kabul airport.
“But once that evacuation mission ends the enormous humanitarian needs will continue and our work will then enter a new phase, which will bring complexities on a scale that we have not seen before,” Brennan said.