By Saima Afzal*
Afghanistan’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse due to the shortage of medicine and medical facilities in post withdrawal phase. The previous corrupt Afghan leadership did not pay attention to improve the medical care neither did international players developed sustained health care system in Afghanistan. After the Taliban seized power, the World Bank and other organizations froze $600 million in health care aid. Due to international disengagement from Afghanistan, Afghans are facing poverty, hunger, no access to health services and poor economy.
Moreover, four decades of war, cold weather, Covid-19, and mass exodus of health care worker associated with international players and previous regimes are factors of poor health care in Afghanistan. The regional countries and well-wishers of Afghanistan are not only helping Afghans by providing medicine and health care but also insisting the international states to help them. Pakistan is in forefront of providing humanitarian assistance and medicine supplies to the war-torn country.
Current Situation in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s economy is aid dependent, the previous governments relied on grant funding for more than 75 percent of public spending. Approximately half of the 40 million Afghans are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. As many as 8.7 million people would need long-term and consistent assistance.
The Afghan health systems has also suffered. The state run health care system heavily relied on foreign funds and is now unable to pay salaries to the doctors and staff or even to buy medicines. The poverty rate in Afghanistan was already high during the Karzai and Ghani regimes and it has likely further increased due to the changed reality. The United Nations has warned that about 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population may sink below the poverty line if the country’s political and economic crises are not addressed.
The ordinary Afghans have suffered from the perpetual wars in Afghanistan during the last four decades. Different Afghan warlords as well as international powers have fought for the rule in Afghanistan leading to current fragile Afghan economy. However, the time has come that the common man in Afghanistan gets the right to live in a stable and peaceful environment for which the sustainable Afghan government and fulfillment of basic necessities are essential. The international community needs to engage with the Afghan government to ensure the stability of Afghan economy and averting the humanitarian crisis. Engaging Afghan government on humanitarian grounds is a different thing from recognizing the government. Disengagement with Afghan government due to differences with the Taliban will be detrimental for the Afghan lives.
Pakistan’s Medical assistance to Afghans
Pakistan has been providing medical facilities to Afghans from a long, and allowed those in need of immediate health assistance to enter the country to seek medical assistance at hospitals in Quetta, Peshawar and other cities of the country.
Pak-Afghan Cooperation Forum organized a free Eye Camp at Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital Kabul from 22-24 November 2021. Expert eye specialists from Pakistan have examined and treated afghan patients including children, women and elderly. Earlier they successfully conducted a similar camp in Khost from 18-20 Nov 2021. 2670 patients were examined and 324 surgeries were performed in the Khost camp while 5450 patients were examined and 206 surgeries were performed in Kabul camp.
Furthermore, medical visa facility has been provided to Afghan patients, for this purpose Pakistan authorities have removed the requirement of getting gate pass for crossing border and now border would be opened for pedestrian movement for 12 hours instead of eight. Govt of Pakistan has announced provision of medicine to the tune of Rs 500 million at earliest to Afghans. Private Pharma industry donors have also announced additional assistance of medicine worth Rs. 40 million. Pakistani team visited Afghanistan for provision of medical equipment. Pak-Afghan have started joint polio eradication coordination under Polio Immunization Program assistance. Likewise, Pakistan has initiated training for capacity enhancement and institutional building of Afghan health care system. Pharmaceutical delegation also visited Afghanistan for investment and assist indigenous medicine production in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s Humanitarian Assistance to Afghans
Pakistan has engaged with the Afghan government to avoid the potential collapse of Afghan economy which will have negative consequences for the whole region. Due to this Pakistan has been sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and also calling on the world community to be more responsible and empathetic towards the Afghan situation. Govt of Pakistan has constituted “Afghanistan Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee” (AICC) to coordinate and facilitate assistance for Afghans. AICC is working to coordinate border management and transportation to prevent any negative spillover into Pakistan. Moreover, govt of Pakitsan has approved Rs5 billion humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.
According a special waiver, Pakistan has also allowed transportation of Indian announced wheat assistance for the war-torn country through Pakistan during the first meeting of the apex committee of the newly established AICC. Seeing Indian efforts to politicize the transportation of this wheat, Pakistan moved a step ahead and has allowed Indian wheat transportation, through Afghan trucks. Pakistan has also decided to send 50,000 MT of wheat to Afghans despite own price hike.
In order to prevent the Human Catastrophe and assist Afghan people who have suffered the most, the Pak Afghan Cooperation Forum (PACF) has been established by Pakistan which is active in facilitating and providing aid to Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan has provided four C-130s and 115 truckloads carrying humanitarian aid for Afghans from 9 October to 25 December 2021. Pakistan is also facilitating the channeling of aid to Afghanistan and total aid provided so far is 1722 tons which includes food, medicines and other essential items. Pakistan has opened 5 border trade stations along the Pak-Afghan border to ease the flow of goods across the border. They include Torkham, Chaman, Karachi, Ghulam Khan, and Angoor Adda.
To conclude, Pakistan has taken practical steps to provide food and medicines to Afghans. It is the responsibility of international community to follow Pakistan’s footsteps and to help the Afghans in need of medical aid irrespective of who is ruling them. International community should engage with Afghan administration and acute health needs in Afghanistan must be urgently addressed.
* The writer is Islamabad based analyst and can be reached at [email protected]