May 9, 2022 – “We just buried Mom. Can you believe it? She was too young to die. I can’t take her place for my younger siblings.”
These are the painful words of my 17-year-old cousin, Sima, who had just lost her mother a few hours before we spoke. My Aunt Bibi was only 40 years old. She lived in Ghazni province in southeastern Afghanistan. She died from uterine bleeding caused by an infection. The doctors in Ghazni’s provincial hospital told her they didn’t have the medicine or facilities to treat her, and she should go to Kabul or abroad. She couldn’t do either.
Gul Ahmad, who lives in Ghor province and whose 5-year-old son died from diarrhea last week, had a similar story: “The doctors told me that they were out of medicine, and I must take my son to a larger clinic.” He didn’t have the money to take his son to another clinic, and the child died.
Afghanistan is in the grips of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. More than 24.4 million people will need humanitarian health aid in 2022, roughly two-thirds of the population. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that Afghanistan’s health system was on the brink of collapse. Afghanistan’s banking crisis and loss of funding has meant that most healthcare workers have not been paid for months, and clinics and hospitals are running seriously short of essential medicines and supplies.
The country is facing multiple outbreaks of disease, including Covid-19, measles, and diarrhea, as well as acute malnutrition. As many Afghans fall deeper into poverty, the lines outside healthcare facilities are growing. “People come to our clinics, they bring their malnourished children, and we don’t have enough medicine,” a healthcare worker in Bamiyan told me. “Every week I witness three or four kids dying of malnutrition, a preventable death.”
Tragically, my Aunt Bibi won’t be the last to die a needless and preventable death, one avoided through access to essential, basic healthcare services. While pressing the Taliban authorities to end human rights violations, donors also need to address the economic crisis that is killing Afghans every day. They need to take urgent steps to allow the Afghan economy to function and rebuild Afghanistan’s fragile healthcare system.