Afghanistan faces delayed vaccines as it fights rising COVID-19 | Coronavirus pandemic news


Afghanistan is battling a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections as health officials demand vaccines, only the World Health Organization will inform them that the three million doses the country expects to receive in April will not be will be delivered by August.

“We are in the midst of a crisis,” health ministry spokesman Ghulam Dastagir Nazari said this week, expressing deep frustration over the global distribution of vaccines that has left poor countries struggling to find supplies for their people.

Nazari has knocked on the door of several embassies and so far “I have gotten diplomatic answers” ​​but there is no dose of vaccine, he said.

Over the past month, the escalation of new cases has threatened to overwhelm Afghanistan’s health care system, which is already struggling under the weight of a relentless conflict. In part, the increase has been attributed to uninterrupted travel with India, leading to the highly contagious delta variant that was first identified there.

In addition, most Afghans still question the reality of the virus or believe that their faith will protect them and rarely wear masks or social distances, often mocking those who do. Until just a week ago, the government allowed mass meetings without restrictions.

The Delta variant has helped increase Afghanistan’s infection rate and affected 16 provinces and the capital, Kabul, the hardest. This week, the rate of new cases recorded reached 1,500 newspapers, compared to 178 newspapers on 1 May.

A hospital worker receives the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine at a hospital in Kabul [File: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The hospital beds are full and it is feared that rapidly depleting oxygen supplies will run out. Afghan ambassadors have been ordered to seek emergency oxygen supplies in nearby countries, Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar said in a tweet on Friday.

A massive discount

According to official figures, Afghanistan has recorded a total of 78,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths from the pandemic. But these figures are probably a massive decline, recording only deaths in hospitals, not the much higher numbers who die at home.

The evidence is tremendously inadequate. In the last month alone, the percentage of positive COVID tests has gone from 8% to 60% in some parts of the country. According to WHO recommendations, anything above five percent shows that officials do not do extensive enough testing, which allows the virus to spread uncontrollably.

At most, only 3,000 tests are performed a day, as Afghans are reluctant to test, even after the country has drastically increased its capabilities to 25,000 a day.

Only recently has the government tried to take steps to curb the overload. He closed schools, universities and colleges for two weeks. It also closed wedding halls, which had been operating unhindered throughout the pandemic.

But it is rare to see someone wearing a mask on the streets and even where masks are mandatory, such as in government offices, the rule rarely applies. Up to ten flights arrive daily from India, full of Afghans, especially students and people who had gone to India to receive medical treatment.

Nazari said banning flights was not an option, as many Afghans cannot afford to stay in India and the government cannot prevent citizens from re-entering their own country.

In Afghanistan, people barely disguise themselves and social distance is rarely followed [File: Parwiz/Reuters]

It is based on donation

So far, for vaccines, Afghanistan has relied on donating doses of AstraZeneca to India and then buying Sinopharm from China.

About 600,000 people have had at least one dose, about 1.6 percent of the population of 36 million. But the figure he has received a second dose is small: “so few could not even say any percentage,” Nazari said.

Last month, the ministry received a letter from the WHO saying the planned shipment of three million doses of vaccine would not arrive until August due to supply problems, Nazari said.

When only 35,000 doses of vaccine remained in the country, authorities were forced to stop giving the first blows to use the remaining supply to give the second blows, he said.

Poor countries around the world have called for vaccines, even when developed countries have been able to inoculate significant parts of their populations.

COVAX, created with the help of the United Nations to try to prevent vaccine inequalities, has struggled to fill the gap. It suffered a major setback when its largest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced last month that it would not export any vaccine until the end of the year due to the increase in that country.

“Honestly speaking, I lost my faith in COVAX,” Nazari said.

“Unfortunately, there are countries that vaccinated more than 50 percent or 60 percent of the population … and there are countries that didn’t get vaccinated even to vaccinate one percent of their population.”

Men wear protective masks while working at a mask factory in Kabul [File: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

On Thursday, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans to share with the world a stockpile of 25 million doses of unused COVID-19 vaccine. The UN-supported global vaccine-sharing program COVAX will receive 75% of these doses, while the rest will go directly to US allies.

More than 63 percent of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

At the Afghan-Japanese Hospital for Communicable Diseases, the only hospital in Kabul dedicated exclusively to COVID treatment, the 174 beds are full. The health ministry opened about 350 more beds for coronavirus patients at three other hospitals, but they filled up too quickly. This week, people were moving away.

Every day, three or four people die from COVID in the Afghan-Japanese hospital, said hospital administrator Dr Zalmai Rishteen.

Doctors say they are struggling with the public’s refusal to take precautions and follow safety protocols. “Our people think it’s fake, especially in the countryside,” Rishteen said. “Or they are religious and believe that God will save them.”

In the hospital’s intensive care unit, Dr Rahman Mohtazir said this only makes him more dangerous while doing his job. “I’m afraid I’ll take it, but I’m here to help,” he said. “I listen to people and they say it’s false. Then they come here. “

The health ministry has recruited prominent religious leaders and local elders to encourage coronavirus vaccination and precautions.

The worsening situation of COVID on Thursday prompted the US embassy to issue a health alert for lack of food, oxygen and beds in hospitals and urge US citizens to “leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. “.

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