Afghan health system ‘close to collapse due to sanctions on Taliban’

Health experts issue dire warning as staff go unpaid and medical facilities lack basic items to treat patients

Large parts of Afghanistan’s health system are on the brink of collapse because of western sanctions against the Taliban, international experts have warned, as the country faces outbreaks of disease and an escalating malnutrition crisis.

With the country experiencing a deepening humanitarian crisis since the Taliban’s seizure of power in August amid mounting levels of famine and economic collapse, many medical staff have not been paid for months and health facilities lack even the most basic items to treat patients.

Dr Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian health at Johns Hopkins University, said that on a recent five-week trip to the country he had seen public hospitals – which cater for the most vulnerable – lacking fuel, drugs, hygiene products and even basic items such as colostomy

He said the Covid-19 responsehad almost ground to a halt and called for a more nuanced response to western sanctions in order to avert a deeper public health disaster.

“It’s really bad and it is going to get a lot worse,” Spiegel, a former chief of public health at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees among other high-profile humanitarian assignments, told the Guardian.

“There are six simultaneous disease outbreaks: cholera, a massive measles outbreak, polio, malaria and dengue fever, and that is in addition to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Some parts of the primary healthcare system were being funded through a two-decades-old scheme, Spiegel said, but large parts remained largely unsupported, even as health officials, international organisations and NGOs have been required to restart programmes on hold after the Taliban regained control of the country in August.