Rights group red flags aid cut impact on Afghan women’s health care

Kabul, May 6 (EFE).- Afghan women’s access to essential health care has taken a hit due to falling donor support, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday.

The situation may worsen after the United States withdraws its forces from the war-ravaged country in September, it said.

The report, “Women’s Access to Health Care in Afghanistan,” documents healthcare barriers faced by Afghan women and girls after interviewing 56 patients and healthcare professionals.

“The drop in international donor funding has already had a harmful—and life-threatening—impact on the lives of many women and girls, as it affects access to and quality of health care,” the report said.

“More cuts are likely in coming months following the announcement by President Joe Biden that the US will withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by Sep.11, 2021.”

The report said any increase in violence and Taliban control of territory might affect the donor aid further.

“International donors are locked in a waiting game to see whether the withdrawal of foreign troops will result in the Taliban gaining greater control of the country,” said Heather Barr, interim co-director of women’s rights at HRW.

“But this is no excuse for cutting funds for essential services that aid groups have managed to deliver in insecure and Taliban-controlled areas.”

Barr stressed that international funding for the health system was a “life-and-death issue,” and if donations were “women will die.”

“This critical moment is no time to abandon Afghan women, who often face a brutal choice between feeding their families or caring for their health,” Barr said.

The Afghan government has little ability in the short term to move toward self-sufficiency, HRW noted.

Over 75 percent of its budget comes from international donors, but it has been declining over the years.

In 2013, donor countries contributed $141 million to health and population assistance in Afghanistan. By 2019, it dropped 26 percent to $105 million.

In 2020, the country’s sustainable domestic revenues fell 2.8 percent, compared with 2019, mainly due to the economic downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report said as hospitals run out of funds to pay for basic medical supplies, they were charging for supplies that previously were free.

Several midwives said the government had informed them about salary cuts from the current $169 to $97 a month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that up to 3 million Afghans were deprived of essential health services in 2020 alone due to the closure of facilities.

Distance remains a problem for a significant proportion of the population.

The report said almost 10 percent of people could not reach a health facility within two hours, and 43 percent must travel more than half an hour.

Afghanistan has 4.6 medical doctors, nurses, and midwives per 10,000 people, far below the threshold for a critical shortage of 23 healthcare professionals per 10,000 people set out by the WHO. EFE

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