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Kuala Lumpur/Kabul/Geneva, 17 June 2021 – A COVID-19 surge in Afghanistan has reached a crisis point as infections and deaths are spiraling out of control, threatening to engulf the country’s fragile health system, as a consequence of decades of armed conflict, and compounding disasters. 

Hospital beds are full in many areas across the country and oxygen supplies cannot keep up.  

Infection rates have skyrocketed by around 2,400 per cent in the past month. Across Afghanistan, 34 per cent of tests returned positive results last week according to government authorities, pointing to many thousands of undiagnosed infections. 

Dr Nilab Mobarez, Acting President of Afghan Red Crescent Society said: 

“Afghanistan is at a crisis point in the battle to contain COVID-19 as hospital beds are full to capacity in the capital Kabul and in many areas. This surge is fast spiralling out of control adding huge pressures on our fragile health system and millions of people living in poverty.  

“Thousands of trained Red Crescent volunteers are risking their lives to help infected people with urgent medical care and to enhance prevention measures. We fear that we are just a heartbeat away from the kind of horror that we have already seen in countries like India and Nepal.” 

The Afghan Red Crescent is running 140 health facilities, including a 50-bed COVID-19 hospital in Kabul and 70 mobile health teams. Volunteers have screened more than 650,000 people for the disease. In rural areas many people have difficulty accessing medical care, safe water, hygiene supplies or accurate information about the virus and how to prevent it. 

Afghanistan is also dealing with a vaccine shortfall exacerbated by a high level of hesitancy. Less than half a per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Mask use and physical distancing is very low. 

Necephor Mghendi, head of Afghanistan Country Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said: 

“COVID-19 is another cruel blow for millions of Afghans already dealing with the constant threat of violence, displacement, food insecurity and poverty. We’re seeing large numbers of people having to make terrible choices between finding a way to feed their families and growing risks of getting sick. 

“IFRC is working with the Afghan Red Crescent to urgently deliver more medical equipment, including an oxygen generation plant for its COVID-19 hospital in Kabul. More international support is urgently needed to help win this race against this virus, so we can save thousands of lives.”  

Afghanistan is one of the poorest and most disaster-prone countries in Asia. More than 14 million people are grappling with food shortages during one of the worst drought crises in decades. With IFRC’s support, Afghan Red Crescent volunteers and response teams have ramped up relief, including food and cash assistance, for thousands of drought-affected families. 

The IFRC is seeking vital funding for its global emergency COVID-19 appeal, with only around 40% of funding requirements for Afghanistan covered so far. The global emergency appeal funds are crucial to continue supporting the lifesaving actions of the IFRC and member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world.