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19 August 2020 - News

Humanitarian health workers put their lives on the line during COVID-19 pandemic

Kabul, 19 August – At risk of catching the coronavirus, battling a lack of PPE and oxygen, treating patients in hostile environments while war planes drop bombs, and not being able to hug their loved ones – humanitarian health workers across the world are putting their lives on the line to help others during an unprecedented global pandemic.

The work is demanding at the best of times, but COVID-19 has impacted aid workers across Afghanistan in new and complex ways. The pandemic and its byproducts, including increased poverty, closure of schools, and worsening food security, come at a particularly challenging time as the conflict continues unabated by the health risks of COVID-19. Despite talks of peace, 2020 has witnessed a concerning deterioration of security for millions of Afghans, including a number of enormous attacks in recent months.

These observable and immediate risks have made the efforts of aid workers even more difficult in the field. According to data from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, nearly 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases are among healthcare staff. Despite these dangers, hundreds of Save the Children aid workers put themselves into harm’s way every day to support children and their families under dire circumstances in Afghanistan – sometimes at great personal cost. On the eve of World Humanitarian Day, one of them tells her story.

Dr. Basrina works as a community health worker for Save the Children in Nangarhar province in western Afghanistan, where she is currently on the frontline of both the pandemic and the conflict raising public awareness and educating people regarding the disease, including how to prevent it. As a trusted member of the community, Basrina is uniquely positioned to provide support to the most vulnerable people of Afghan society, including women and children. She said: “I am very happy fighting on the frontline against COVID-19 and saving lives. I want to continue my work with enthusiasm and feel proud serving in this tough situation.”

Basrina works five days a week in five different districts of Jalalabad where she is providing health services. She added: Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Afghanistan, we started to educate people and raise public awareness. My work is double now these days, but it gives me more energy and passion in helping people.”

Milan Dinic, Country Director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said:

Afghanistan’s health system – wrecked by decades of conflict and under-resourcing – is not equipped to deal with the virus on its own and the lack of doctors and health workers was already a challenge before COVID-19. Children are particularly vulnerable to the crisis, especially the millions who are already living in poverty, facing malnutrition, or who have been forced from their homes and remain in displacement camps.”

He added, “Save the Children is running COVID-19 response programs throughout the country. Our health workers, like Basrina, are committed to serve in the remote areas where we have been active and have developed good relationships with the community. Meanwhile, we are scaling up projects in other areas to better ensure we reach the most vulnerable communities. However, the challenges continue and the commitment to the children and families of Afghanistan by aid workers like Basrina also needs to be demonstrated by the international community through increased funding and support, as well as by the government of Afghanistan and Taliban by allowing humanitarian staff relatively safe and unfettered access to communities.”