Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Afghanistan’s health system in crisis

28 February 20240 comments

Afghanistan’s public health system has been decimated by the withdrawal of foreign aid the Taliban’s abuses against women and girls, a new report says.

And the resultant healthcare crisis has made millions of Afghans increasingly vulnerable to severe malnutrition and illness.

The report from NGO Human Rights Watch title ‘A Disaster for the Foreseeable Future’: Afghanistan’s Healthcare Crisis,’ says the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy after the Taliban takeover in August 2021 has inflicted severe harm on the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

And donors’ decisions to reduce humanitarian aid have further weakened health care access, destabilised the economy, and worsened food insecurity, it says.

“The Taliban’s abusive policies and practices have greatly exacerbated the crisis. Bans on education for women and girls have blocked most training for future female healthcare workers, ensuring shortages for the foreseeable future,” the report says.

“The loss of foreign development aid and Taliban rights violations have caused a catastrophic health crisis in Afghanistan that is disproportionately harming women and girls,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Taliban have severely obstructed women from providing or accessing health care, while the cost of treatment and medicine has put care out of reach for many Afghans.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed Afghan and foreign aid officials, healthcare workers, and people seeking health care in 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces between February 2023 and January 2024.

Prior to the Taliban’s seizure of power, the Afghan government had depended on international development support from donors to fund essential services like primary health care, the report says.

“The previous government’s contribution to the public primary care system was negligible, leaving the system vulnerable to collapse once aid was withdrawn. Taliban authorities have also allocated little funding for health care, and humanitarian organizations have struggled to fill the void amid funding cuts that threaten this lifeline,” the report says.

While Afghans living in poverty have always faced difficulties obtaining health care because of costs, a rising number of Afghans now struggle to pay for food and are often unable to cover the price of medicines and transportation to reach health services, it says.

The report cited a 54-year-old man living with a kidney infection, who said: “Since the Taliban took over, the price of my medications has nearly doubled. This is too much for anyone who doesn’t have a job.”

The United Nations estimates that 23.7 million people – more than half of Afghanistan’s population – will need humanitarian assistance in 2024. While humanitarian agencies provide life-saving assistance, they cannot replace all the essential services that had previously depended on donor support.

“The Taliban’s ban on women’s employment with humanitarian agencies has compounded the crisis by creating additional obstacles to delivering assistance equitably and by depriving women and their families of income. Strict hijab and mahram (male guardian) regulations have impeded women from traveling for work or to receive treatment,” the report says.

A doctor in Samangan, also cited in the report, said: “The Taliban have instructed us not to treat any female patient who is not accompanied by a mahram or is not in full hijab.”

“Among those most affected by Afghanistan’s healthcare crisis are people with disabilities. Due to decades of conflict and poor maternal health care, Afghanistan has one of the largest populations in the world of people with disabilities. Because of aid shortfalls, the few services for people with disabilities, including physical rehabilitation and mental health support, have largely disappeared,” the report said.

“The unprecedented economic crisis in Afghanistan has meant that millions are facing life-threatening conditions,” Abbasi said. “The situation demands more than humanitarian aid, it requires sustainable efforts to avert further economic decline and alleviate the immense suffering of the Afghan population,” it said

Read the full report: “A Disaster for the Foreseeable Future”: Afghanistan’s Healthcare Crisis | HRW