Afghanistan’s healthcare system is on verge of collapse, says HRW

KABUL (SW) – The Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that most training for future female healthcare workers has stopped in Afghanistan following the Islamic Emirate’s ban on secondary education for women and girls.

“This has created potentially life-threatening shortages in the provision of healthcare for women,” said HRW in a report on Monday.

Even before August 2021, Afghanistan had one of the highest rates of maternal deaths per capita in Asia, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. “With half of all potential medical students not allowed to study things are bound to get worse. Simply put: In a country where male doctors are not allowed to see female patients, if women workers are not there to deliver aid to women, women will most likely go without aid altogether,” the report added.

Afghanistan’s public healthcare system was ailing even before the Islamic Emirate return to power in August 2021, said HRW, for decades, much of it had depended on donor funding. Since the Islamic Emirate’s takeover, however, most development spending has ceased. “Today, the country’s economy is on the verge of collapse – and so is its heath care system,” HRW added.

“If this wasn’t bad enough, in some provinces doctors have been instructed not to treat any female patient who is not accompanied by a mahram – a male guardian – and is not covered from head to toe. How can a doctor properly diagnose someone if they can’t examine them? Are women comfortable divulging their medical history in front of a father, uncle, cousin or brother?”

“My family won’t understand,” Mehria A., a woman in Nangarhar, who has experienced depression, told Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, during research for her report “‘A Disaster for the Foreseeable Future’: Afghanistan’s Healthcare Crisis”. “I wish there were confidential services available for women so I could seek those.

“Female doctors are also obliged to be accompanied by a male guardian – often even at work. This has increased costs for clinics, as the guardian needs to be paid for food and transport, while making the delivery of community health services more difficult because skilled healthcare workers who don’t have mahram can’t work. And all of this, while people are in greater need, with millions of children suffering from malnutrition and depression among women on the rise.”

“The unprecedented economic crisis in Afghanistan has meant that millions are facing life-threatening conditions,” says Fereshta. “The situation demands more than humanitarian aid, it requires sustainable efforts to avert further economic decline and alleviate the immense suffering of the Afghan population.”

With millions having lost their jobs over the last two and a half years, families are facing harsh choices: Do they spend the little money there is on food or take their malnourished children to the doctor and buy medicines?

Naser, a resident of Logar, says that due to the lack of medical services where he lives, he brought his child to Kabul city for treatment. Naser adds: “I brought my child to Kabul for pneumonia treatment; But the doctors say that your child has a hole in the heart.”

“Not surprisingly, Afghanistan’s women and girls are particularly hard hit by this crisis. The country has become one of the most repressive worldwide for women and girls,” HRW’s report added.

The Human Rights Watch, says that the response of governments and international organizations to this crisis, though, has been poor if not apathetic. It’s high time world leaders stood by the Afghan people and showed more determination to alleviate the ever-increasing misery life has meant for women and girls in particular.