Rise in violence leaves millions without healthcare in Afghanistan amid pandemic: ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that the recent rise in violence in Afghanistan, combined with targeted attacks against healthcare facilities, has prevented access to health services for millions of Afghans.

Juan-Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, said on Thursday that the war-ravaged nation more than ever needed health services with the outbreak of the coronavirus.

"The recent trajectory in Afghanistan is of great concern. After the hope brought by a relative reduction in hostilities in February and March, we again see more violence. Civilian casualties are on the rise while the country is battling against COVID-19," Schaerer said.  

"COVID-19 has challenged the world's most advanced nations. A country where gunmen attack a hospital stands no chance at providing quality care. We see it in health facilities in conflict-affected areas and in prisons, where people have already limited access to healthcare," he added.

"We battle a worldwide enemy and need a country-wide agreement on how to address COVID-19," Schaerer said, adding, "As a start, full respect of international humanitarian law by all parties, without exception, is needed to protect civilians in Afghanistan."

The war-raved Asian country has an overstretched health system that is challenged by limited coverage in conflict-affected areas, poor specialized healthcare, and now the outbreak of COVID-19.

The United Nations has recently warned of an alarming uptick in violence against civilians and a “striking deterioration” in upholding international humanitarian law in Afghanistan.

Violent militant raids against health staff or health facilities, such as the deadly assault in May against the Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-operated maternity hospital in Kabul, only exacerbate the situation.

In Afghanistan's ICRC-supported largest hospital, Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar, the staff continue to provide obstetric care and surgery for people wounded in war.

Due to an increase in coronavirus cases, the hospital now operates at a reduced capacity despite the near-usual rates of patients wounded in fighting and child deliveries.

Violence has surged despite a deal between the Taliban and the United States. Official data shows Taliban bombings and other assaults have increased 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States in February.

Under the agreement, the US will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban will refrain from attacking international occupying forces. The militants, however, have made no pledge to avoid attacking Afghan forces and civilians.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. While the invasion ended the Taliban’s rule in the country, it failed to eliminate the group.


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