WHO thanks UAE for Afghanistan assistance as Dr Tedros visits Kabul

Chief says the UN public health agency will continue its work in the Taliban-controlled country

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited hospitals in Kabul on Tuesday, in the first high level visit from the organisation to Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country.

The first African to lead the WHO accompanied the group's director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, to meet Taliban leaders, health workers and their own staff in the country, as well as tour a hospital. They also thanked nations contributing aid to Afghanistan during Dr Tedros' visit on Tuesday, including the UAE, Qatar and Pakistan.

"We laud the ongoing support facilitated by Qatar, Pakistan, UAE, the World Food Programme and UN partners, with this support, we managed to deliver eight separate life-saving shipments of medicines and medical supplies into the country," Dr Al-Mandhari tweeted on Tuesday.

The pair called for Afghanistan's health system to remain neutral and outside of conflict, and promised the WHO would continue its work in the area.

“We need to act now to safeguard Afghanistan's health system that is already fragile and has been deeply affected by the recent insecurity,” said Dr Al Mandhari.

The country, taken over by the Taliban just over a month ago, is now facing cash and medical supply shortages, disruptions to the Covid-19 response and a drop in vaccinations for other diseases like Polio.

Many international organisations and governments have pulled funding, which makes up about 40 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, for fear of cash falling into Taliban hands. Even before the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, 47 per cent of the population lived in poverty, according to the Asian Development Bank, and a third survived on the equivalent of $1.90 a day.

Dr Tedros said the lack of funding was having an impact on medical care, including treatment of victims of the August 26 suicide bombing outside Kabul airport, which killed 60 people and injured many more crowding for places on evacuation flights in the first days of the Taliban takeover.

“My heart broke hearing that nurses, who have been working day and night, haven't received salaries in three months. They are doing the most invaluable job in the most difficult circumstances - saving lives!” he said on Twitter, after visiting the capital's Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan National Hospital.

“Health is a service that needs to be continued at all times. If Afghanistan's health system collapses, the tragedy will be worse and many more lives will be lost. We can prevent this from happening, together.”

The Taliban have shown little sign of enacting reforms they promised would differentiate their 1996-2001 regime from today, including allowing women to work and study.

“The Taliban will have to make a choice between money or isolation, but we have very little expectations of them,” an EU diplomat told Reuters. “Today there are no signals.”

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 3:23 AM
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