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The third wave of COVID-19 hits Afghanistan


The government in Afghanistan hesitated and denied the severity of the corona pandemic - now a health catastrophe looms.

The government in Afghanistan hesitated and denied the severity of the corona pandemic - now a health catastrophe looms.

  • Numerous vaccines are available in Afghanistan - but only a few can be vaccinated.

  • Meanwhile, anger against the government is growing - allegations of corruption and profiteering.

  • Religious leaders make absurd claims about the coronavirus.

  • This article is available in German for the first time - it was first published by

    Foreign Policy

    magazine on June 7, 2021


Kabul, Afghanistan - After months of undecided over the past year the Afghan government on how to respond to the looming pandemic, the country is now in the middle of its third wave of COVID-19 and authorities are still unwilling to appreciate the extent of the disease . The numbers are widely ridiculed and it is believed that the number of deaths and infections is much higher than stated.

The Afghan Ministry of Health (MoPH) figures show the number of positive cases is increasing: 1,582 new cases on Monday, with 56 reported deaths, compared to 1,379 new cases on Sunday.

A health economist who refused to be identified said the real number was likely double what the ministry published.

The MoPH said a total of 80,615 people have been infected with the coronavirus since the first case was reported on February 11, 2020.

3195 people died, it reported. 

Corona wave in Afghanistan: official figures are deceiving - many sick people died at home

However, health experts said few Afghans report their illness in hospitals and many who were sick have died at home, suggesting that official COVID-19 numbers in Afghanistan mask the severity and widespread nature of the ongoing outbreak. On a day last week when 36 deaths were officially reported nationwide, a doctor at a public hospital in Kabul, who did not want to be named, estimated the number of deaths in the capital alone at more than 500 a day. 

The government argues that Kabul's cemeteries are underutilized, proving that deaths from COVID-19 are minimal.

But most of Kabul's residents return to their villages for funerals, where the high attendance at funerals is a sign of status (and an additional disease driver), further clouding confidence in government numbers.

"The problem is, no one can prove [government information] is right or wrong," said Ahmad Abid Humayun, executive director of the Sanayee Development Organization.

Afghan government ignores requests from NGOs to ban travel to and from Iran and Pakistan

Although cabinet is considering reverting to a statewide lockdown and schools and universities are already teaching online again as infection rates rise, the government ignored requests from non-governmental organizations to ban travel to and from Iran and Pakistan - both high-infection-rate and leak-proof countries Limits. Flights to Kabul from India, which has become the epicenter of the disease, are full as Afghans flee home, a senior official said. COVID-19 negative tests are said to be easy to purchase for around $ 45.

The widespread spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan is due to the mistakes made in the first three months of the outbreak last year, when medical authorities decided to entrust the fight to international and local aid agencies. At this point, it was already too late to reverse the spread of the pandemic, according to frontline health workers. And those early mistakes were made worse by corruption and profiteering, which caused basic medical equipment prices to skyrocket and overseas ventilators to disappear before they reached the hospitals that needed them badly. The government has not responded to allegations that funds were misappropriated or wasted for COVID-19,and public anger that the government is unable to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the number of deaths is growing.

Anger at the government in Afghanistan is growing - Meanwhile, US troop withdrawals and rumors, superstitions and misinformation

"The government claims to have spent $ 200 million fighting COVID, but there is no adequate public information campaign so nobody knows how or where to get vaccinated," said a Kabul businessman.

"Certainly a large part of this money has ended up in the deep, deep pockets of the officials."

Afghanistan's efforts to get a grip on the health crisis are being hampered not only by endemic corruption and distrust of the government, but also by the rapid withdrawal of US and international forces that have been with the Afghan security forces for nearly 20 years helped fight the insurgents. The Taliban, who are fighting the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, hold a large area and violence is increasing across the country. Embassies are reducing their staff, recommending their nationals to leave the country or even closing, like the Australian embassy late last month.

Add to this the damage caused by rumors, superstitions, and misinformation spread by religious leaders, Humayun said.

In the absence of public information campaigns, vaccine awareness and uptake are low, causing millions of doses to expire before they can be used.

Health workers beg friends and acquaintances to get vaccinated.

Some, like Sanayee's, visit people's homes and ask them to invite relatives, friends, and co-workers to get vaccinated together to use the vaccines before they expire.

Believe COVID-19 Contagion Causes Infertility - Religious Leaders Make Absurd Claims

The now established belief that infection with COVID-19 causes infertility has resulted in people who tested positive refusing to participate in testing and follow-up programs. "They just disappear, refuse to answer the phone," said Humayun, whose organization ensures health care in the provinces of Kabul, Zabul and Faryab, where up to 7 million people live. Religious leaders told their followers that "good Muslims" would not get infected with COVID-19, Humayun said. In addition, charlatans have turned up who peddle opium-containing potions that are touted as remedies. "He gave it away for free, and people actually felt better," a government official said of herbalist Hakim Alokozai's free COVID-19 cure.

In Afghanistan, for example, it has only been possible to vaccinate a tiny fraction of the population, even though numerous vaccines are available.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Coronavirus Resource Center said only 144,600 people, or 0.38 percent of the population of Afghanistan, were fully vaccinated and a total of 630,305 doses were given.

Most of these vaccines were given to members of the Afghan security forces, the equivalent of up to half a million first and second doses.

Vaccinators are racing against time to give the second dose to civilians before the supply runs out, leaving out many who want to be vaccinated as the crisis worsens.

Luck in misfortune: Afghanistan's youth in the corona pandemic

The only luck that Afghanistan appears to have on its side is its youthful population: around 70 percent of the estimated 40 million people in the country are younger than 30 years old, and more than 40 percent are younger than 15 years old. Since there are less-at-risk older Afghans, the overall mortality rate is likely to stay close to the global figure of 1 to 2 percent, according to Humayun.

But it's still a deadly pandemic. In casual conversations with Afghans, most of them say that at least one, and often more, close relatives have died of the disease. They tell anecdotes of hospitals and clinics overwhelmed with patients - lack of staff, expertise, equipment and oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients. And it will likely get worse. Few people in Kabul wear masks in public, and there is little evidence that crowding advice is being followed. Even during last year's lockdown, most Afghans admitted that it became an excuse for large gatherings at home, while the lockdown was nonetheless devastating to the economy.

Despite promises by the government that most of the country should be vaccinated by the end of next year, vaccinations are so avoided by the population that huge amounts have to be destroyed as they expire unused.

Meanwhile, basic medical equipment costs have skyrocketed.

A simple box of masks that was $ 1 for 100 masks a year ago now costs about $ 15.

Everything - from simple items like thermometers to high-quality equipment like ventilators - has apparently been diverted to the black market, making the means to keep COVID-19 in check out of reach for many Afghans.

Corona in Afghanistan: Assumption that the situation will get worse

Afghanistan's incumbent health minister, Wahid Majrooh, has pleaded with the public to wear masks and warned of an impending "disaster" due to a lack of oxygen in hospitals across the country.

When the pandemic broke out, local media reported that Afghanistan only had 400 ventilators.

Schoolgirls found a way to make cheap versions out of auto parts.

Gul Ahmad Ayubi, head of the health department in northern Balkh province, said 179 oxygen bottles disappeared from the province's main hospital after reports that local authorities had confiscated oxygen supplies for their own use.

It is believed that the situation will get worse.

The statement of a businessman in Kabul, dismissing the government's desperate pleading for caution as insignificant, reflects the lack of concern many Afghans have: "There are worse things here that will kill you."

by Lynn O'Donnell

Lynne O'Donnell

is an Australian journalist, author and analyst.

Between 2009 and 2017 she was the head of the Afghanistan office of Agence France-Presse and Associated Press.

This article was first published in English on June 7, 2021 in the magazine “” - as part of a cooperation, it is now also

 available to

readers in translation 



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Source: merkur

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