Kabul, Aug 31 (EFE).- With Afghanistan falling into the hands of the Taliban, international agencies almost immediately froze their funding, leaving the Asian country’s public healthcare system on the verge of collapse, Afghan Health Minister Wahid Majrooh told EFE in an interview.
Majrooh, the only cabinet minister who has not fled and remains in office despite the fall of the government, estimated it was just a matter of weeks, perhaps a month, before the healthcare system collapses.
He stressed that the department is left with little financial reserves, besides a lack of medicines, oxygen and food.
“It is difficult to say for how many days the staff will be ready to come to offices (given that they have not been paid salaries for months) but I can tell that in most provinces we are already running out of food items, fuel, oxygen…. (The collapse) will be gradual, it will not happen all of a sudden, I hope the system will remain active for a month,” he said.
Devastated by decades of conflict, Afghanistan is among the countries most dependent on international aid. However, funds stopped immediately after the Taliban victory on Aug.15 with the seizure of Kabul, to prevent the militant group from accessing the money.
Last midnight, the United States withdrew its last troops in Afghanistan, bringing an end to its 20-year presence in Afghanistan that began with an invasion in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks.
According to the minister, around 2,400 of the 3,700 health centers in Afghanistan are dependent on finds channeled through the World Bank, and when the resources were “frozen, these health facilities were badly affected.”
Without funds, supplies, staff salaries, medicines, “everything has been put on hold (and) it has created an environment of disappointment,” he added.
According to the World Bank, aid funds accounted for 42.9 percent of Afghanistsn’s GDP in 2020. In addition to the financial crisis that limits the health system’s access to foreign funds, there is the inability to access the country’s international reserves, much of which are stored in the US.
At the moment, the finance ministry has not been able to “fulfill the budget we need for the ministry and government-run hospitals which are running out out of all required items,” he stressed.
Shortly after Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani secretly fled the country, coinciding with the Taliban’s entry into Kabul, most of his cabinet too followed in his footsteps or went into hiding, fearing reprisals by the Islamists.
“The reason I stayed, I did not flee, did not leave the country was to ensure there was no disruption in services delivery. It was a huge risk for me,” underlined the minister.
Now, “I have the privilege to say that the Ministry of Health is the only and the first institution continuing its operations,” said Majrooh, who continues to be in touch with international organizations in the absence of the new Taliban government.
“But we face the budget cut dilemma, which wastes all the risk we took during the conflict days, after the transition,” he reflected.
Between 85 and 90 percent of delivery of primary healthcare is implemented by government-contracted NGOs, so injecting resources into these institutions is key to basic healthcare.
As part of the efforts, “we are communicating to them (the NGOs) that we are working with our donors to find different solutions, an alternative mechanism to channel the funds.”
“We are asking them, requesting them if they can use their organization resources until we re-initiate fund channeling but that has not been much effective,” he admitted.
Despite a widespread fear of the Taliban’s presence on the streets, 97 percent of health centers in the country are functioning, with most of its professionals, including men and women, coming to work everyday.
But these same staff that Majrooh praised for their resilience, are tired and have not received their salaries for at least three months.
On Monday, the World Health Organization reported the dispatch of aid and medical supplies to Afghanistan as part of its emergency response effort. The shipment will supply some 40 Afghan facilities, which however is not enough.