Afghanistan has just entered the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic amid an unprecedented rise in confirmed cases, relatively unprepared. Apparently due to the relatively modest numbers during the second wave in November 2020, many Afghans became complacent about following health protocols and taking preventive measures. Complacency seems to have also been a factor in the government’s decision to delay announcing that the country was entering the third wave until after numbers had increased dramatically. Now leading politicians are sounding the alarm.“Corona is catastrophic if we don’t take it serious”. Government awareness campaign posters on Herat’s Hanzela Badghisi Boulevard in spring 2020. Photo: Reza Kazemi/AAN.
Shortage of hospital beds, the lack of oxygen and few medical personnel trained to operate ventilators point to an acute crisis. But not all shortcomings in Afghanistan are homemade. Four decades of war have left the country without adequate infrastructure, economic strength and robust safety nets that allow other countries to take strict measures and stem the pandemic. There are also doubts about the capacity of the responsible ministry, a presidential office intent on dominating decision-making, resulting in political interference, allegations of corruption. Finally, there is considerable reluctance among significant parts of the population to accept that Covid-19 is more than an ordinary virus and a widespread stigma associated with being infected, reinforced by an array of rumours and conspiracy myths. Like most other countries in the Global South with no production capacities of their own, Afghanistan suffers from the lack of vaccines, the main instrument to break the wave, as well as oxygen.
The Taleban are reportedly interested in participating in the vaccination campaign but only if vaccinators coordinate with their health commission. AAN has heard different accounts from various provinces concerning the Taleban’s acceptance of vaccinations. In some provinces, fighting prevented or the Taleban imposed restrictions or prevented the hiring of vaccinators. In other provinces, authorities claimed there were no restrictions, despite a substantial Taleban presence. In Kapisa, provincial health authorities “established a commission of the ulema and influential people and adopted a policy of impartiality, keeping the vaccination process out of politics,” which seems to have convinced the Taleban. In Maidan Wardak, such an approach did not succeed. Dr Aziz ur-Rahman Safi, director of Kunar’s public health directorate, told AAN: “We have not faced any problems or prevention of vaccinations. We have vaccination sites in district centres as well as the centre of the province. Armed opposition fighters have also been vaccinated in Kunar.”
AAN has followed the Corona crisis in Afghanistan since the first confirmed cases were reported in early spring 2020. As Afghanistan responds to the new challenges of the pandemic’s third wave, AAN presents a compilation of its reporting – nine reports by several in-house and guest authors – to our readers.
The reports appear in reverse chronological order.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (9): Into the third wave
Authors: Thomas Ruttig and Rohullah Sorush
Date: 11 June 2021
Afghanistan has entered the third wave of the Coronavirus pandemic amid an unprecedented rise in confirmed cases. Doctors in various provinces detected signs of the impending new wave soon after the start of the Afghan new year (21 March), but the government only imposed contact restrictions on 28 May and enlisted religious scholars to urge people to observe protective measures. It warns now of “difficult coming four weeks“ with no signs of cases declining. The influx of more infectious variants of the virus appears to have exacerbated the situation. Despite growing testing capacities and more facilities to treat Covid-19 patients, the Afghan health system’s remains severely under-equipped. Popular misperceptions of the virus, resulting in complacency, have contributed to the new outbreak. But Afghanistan belongs to the big bloc of countries, particularly those in the Global South, with insufficient access to vaccines. AAN researcher Rohullah Sorush and co-director Thomas Ruttig contacted 20 out of 34 provincial health directors early to get a sense of the evolving situation throughout the country and look at figures and trends.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (8): The political economy repercussions of Covid-19 and the aid response
Author: Bill Byrd
Date: 14 October 2020
In addition to its disastrous public health effects on Afghanistan, the Covid-19 pandemic is harming the country’s economy and has pushed more people into poverty. Covid is also creating a sizable hole in the national budget, diverting precious aid resources away from development and any possible ‘peace dividend’ and complicating rather than simplifying current political dynamics including around the peace process. Guest author Bill Byrd*, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace expressing his own views, analyses the economic, fiscal and political economy implications of the pandemic.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (7): The effects of the pandemic on the private lives and safety of women at home
Author: Khadija Hossaini
Date: 14 October 2020
Covid-19 has had an alarming effect on Afghanistan, exacerbating poverty and reducing access to health care, in addition to the deaths and illness. The pandemic has also had specific consequences for women, particularly during lockdown, including increased levels of domestic violence and reduced access to schools and medical care. AAN’s Khadija Hossaini discovered that women also keenly felt the loss of their already limited private space, amid an increase in their unpaid workload at home, both of which have had severe ramifications for their mental health. With some fearing an increase of Covid-19 infections through the winter months, many women are bracing for a return of these problems. The report is based on interviews with women in Kabul, Bamyan, Daikundi and Balkh province.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (6): A closer look at the MoPH’s official figures
Authors: Rohullah Sorush (with Sayed Asadullah Sadat)
Date: 24 September 2020
When AAN first tried to map the trends in the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in Afghanistan in March 2020, almost three months after the first outbreak in China, we found that the country had only been moderately affected. Since then, the number of confirmed infections and deaths have risen, but numbers remain relatively modest, particularly compared to neighbouring countries like Iran and Pakistan. AAN’s Rohullah Sorush (with input from Sayed Asadullah Sadat) takes a closer look at the official figures and their sources, and compares them with other information, including government estimates and anecdotal stories from people closely involved. All agree that the real number of deaths and infections, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, is significantly higher than those officially given – something the authorities readily admit – although nobody knows how much higher. This report aims to give an overview of what is known, or can be extrapolated, about the spread and impact of the disease, and serves as a warning that, given Afghanistan’s low and unevenly spread testing capacity, official figures cannot serve as the sole basis for analysis or decision-making.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (5): Snapshots of women’s living under coronavirus in and around Herat city
Author: S Reza Kazemi
Date: 22 July 2020
In Herat, Afghanistan’s second most-infected province, women have been disproportionately hit by the secondary effects of Covid-19. AAN researcher Reza Kazemi has been hearing from women in the province about extra care and housework, increased levels of domestic violence, greater restrictions on movement and their concerns about their children, given school closures. He also finds women adapting, contributing in critical ways to the society and gradually trying to change life for the better.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (4): A precarious interplay between war and epidemic
Authors: S Reza Kazemi and Fazal Muzhary
Date: 19 June 2020
Afghans are now being killed by both the continuing war and Covid-19. The epidemic has ground much of life to a halt – with the notable exception of the fighting. In this report, AAN researchers Reza Kazemi and Fazal Muzhary (with input from Kate Clark) look at the interplay between war and disease. They provide statistics, where available, on those killed, injured, infected and recovering. They also look at the wider political context, how the government has tried to use the epidemic to push for a humanitarian ceasefire – rejected by the Taleban – and the Taleban’s push to speed up prisoner release – reluctantly agreed to by the government. They find that both parties have been protecting their own interests, as they respond to the double crisis of war and epidemic, rather than seeking to protect the people they claim to represent and serve.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (3): Distributing aid and changing aid politics – view from a Herati village
Author: S Reza Kazemi
Date: 16 May 2020
At a time when coronavirus-related aid in Afghanistan is becoming a topic of heated discussion, and the cause of some unfortunate violent incidents, the aid that flowed into a rural community in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat was bitterly and deeply contested. With the day-to-day rhythm of life in this already impoverished village troubled by the virus threat, community leaders were pushed to transform the way they usually distributed aid coming from outside and to ensure it reached those most badly in need. AAN researcher Reza Kazemi gives a granular account on how the elders reacted, a case study that can illuminate the coronavirus-induced disruptions and aid politics throughout Afghanistan.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (2): Herat city between disregard and compliance
Author: S Reza Kazemi
Date: 30 March 2020
With around two-thirds of Afghanistan’s confirmed positive Covid-19 cases thus far, the western province of Herat is now known as the path through which the coronavirus spread from neighbouring Iran. But how have residents and government in Herat city, the provincial centre, reacted to the disease in day-to-day life? Based on observations and conversations, AAN researcher Reza Kazemi traces local responses since the first infection was detected in late February 2020. He finds an advising government, a public that has more often ignored than listened to it and a recently-growing solidarity, in a partial lockdown, around an uncertain, but potentially deadly, viral threat.
Covid-19 in Afghanistan (1): No large outbreak yet in the country
Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 30 March 2020
Afghanistan has so far been moderately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer than 100 people testing positive and four confirmed fatalities. There are strong indications that these cases may have been seeded by the outbreak in neighbouring Iran, via Afghans who returned from that country. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig has compiled an overview of what is known about the situation and the measures taken by authorities so far. He concludes that, given the country’s generally weak infrastructure, variable health coverage – particularly in rural areas – relatively late and patchy preventive measures and a partly reluctant public, fears are that the virus might spread more extensively.
This article was last updated on 17 Jun 2021