Supporting Afghanistan’s battle against COVID-19

This week, UK-Med’s Health Director Ram and Emergency Nurse Sophia have been working in Kabul, Afghanistan, to support the country’s COVID-19 response. Ram reports below:

“Emerging from a harsh winter, after weeks of consistently freezing temperatures, the weather in Kabul has finally begun to brighten. Having recently returned from Poland and Ukraine, where our team has been providing support for people affected by the conflict, last week I arrived in Kabul – Afghanistan’s capital and largest city – to support the country’s COVID-19 response.

Afghanistan has long been a protracted crisis due to conflict and instability, and unfortunately, is now once more in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis.

The currency has plummeted, food, water and other essential resources are becoming scarce and many people have been fleeing the country or have been displaced within Afghanistan itself. Adding to this crisis, freezing temperatures in recent months has led to people reportedly choosing between food or warmth (Washington Post).

All of this has been compounded by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has equally affected Afghanistan. Just two weeks ago, the IFRC reported that fewer than 10 of the country’s 37 public COVID-19 health facilities remain functional, and they are struggling to keep up with demand.

Over the past few days, I’ve been delivering training in Kabul together with our long-time partner IOM (International Organization for Migration, a UN Agency) to physicians from across 12 provinces, along with my colleague Emergency Department nurse Sophia Turner.

Sophia conducting training sessions for clinical staff in Afghanistan. The Early Warning Score (EWS) was highlighted by community health staff that we worked with in Papua New Guinea as a tool that helped their confidence and decision making, improving patient outcomes.

The impact of this training will help staff here to treat and care for COVID-19 patients in a more effective manner, but as well allow them to do so safely – protecting themselves, their families, and other patients.

Although COVID-19 restrictions have been easing in parts of the world, particularly in the UK, record case numbers are still being reported in places across the world. Afghanistan is no exception – the country experienced a large surge last month, despite its low testing numbers meaning there may have been many more unreported cases (in February, there were just 0.03 tests per 1000 people in Afghanistan).

This is particularly worrying here as it has one of the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the region – with just 11.4% of the population fully immunized. That’s why a key part of our training has focussed on risk communication and community engagement; giving health workers the skills and tools needed to educate patients and their respective communities about the risks and mitigation measures of COVID-19, as well as how to help increase vaccination rates in their respective areas.

These sessions were organised with IOM; one of UK-Med’s longstanding partners.

Our mission at UK-Med is to make sure that everyone, no matter where they live, has the healthcare they need when disasters or crises – including outbreaks – hit.

We continue to work around the world to put in the systems and processes that will help healthcare systems deal with an outbreak of COVID-19, as well as training and preparing frontline health care workers that will ultimately save lives.”

Feature image: Afghanistan has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the region – with just 11.4% of the population fully immunized. Photo credit: EC/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

Learn more about our COVID-19 responses across the world.

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