COVID-19 is rapidly spreading undetected throughout Afghanistan, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Confirmed cases have risen by 684% in May, while the country's extremely low testing capacity means many more are going untested and undetected. The Afghanistan Ministry of Health has said they only have capacity to test 2,000 cases per day, yet, are receiving between 10,000 and 20,000 samples each day. That means between 80 and 90 percent of potential cases are not being tested. Afghanistan has one of the highest test positivity rates (40%) of all the countries where the IRC works, suggesting a high level of undetected population infection. 

Despite the spread of COVID-19, the IRC is safely continuing its life saving programming, working to combat and respond to violence against women and children, train frontline healthcare workers on Infection, Prevention and Control, adapting our education programming to reach children in their homes, increasing access to water and sanitation for our clients, providing cash relief to those most in need and combatting the spread of misinformation to ensure our clients know how to protect themselves from the disease. But, more is needed. The IRC is urgently calling on the international community to work with Afghanistan to improve their testing capacity, and to increase direct support for frontline responders like the IRC. 

Vicki Aken, Afghanistan Country Director at the IRC, said,

“Four decades of war has devastated the health care system in Afghanistan and left more than five million Afghans, especially women and children, living in fear of abuse, neglect, conflict, exploitation and violence. The COVID-19 outbreak is making the already terrible situation much worse. Many health clinics do not have the proper protective gear to treat or refer COVID-19 patients and are turning away those showing signs and symptoms. Our teams on the ground are seeing an increase in violence against women and children, and women are likely to face increased economic hardship. This horrible conflict and now the economic impact of this virus has left almost 11 million people facing severe food insecurity, unsure of where their next meal will come from. Attacks on health facilities and civilian infrastructure, like the recent horrific attack on a maternity ward in Kabul, continue despite a recent three-day ceasefire and ongoing peace negotiations between the US and the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

“We are extremely concerned for our clients — not only for the severe health impacts this virus will have on them, but also for the way this disease is already exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation in the country. The conflict in Afghanistan was already the world’s deadliest for children. It will take the country a long time to recover from this outbreak, even just to reach pre COVID-19 levels of need. But, with the right support, there is still time to save lives now. Just $10 can provide a household of seven with a month’s supply of soap to ensure vital hand washing practices and protect homes from COVID-19. Major government donors must step up now and fund frontline responders like the IRC. Our incredible staff are reaching thousands of people every week, but we must do more”

The IRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1988 providing aid to the most vulnerable. With more than 1,700 staff and volunteers, the IRC reaches more than a million Afghans each year with education, protection, water and sanitation, emergency response, and economic recovery programs. 

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations, with a focus on mitigating and responding to the spread in vulnerable communities, protecting our staff and ensuring continuation of life-saving programming.