This report is produced by OCHA Afghanistan in collaboration with humanitarian partners via clusters. It covers activities carried out between 11 January and 14 February 2021. This will be the final edition of this monthly COVID-19 multi-sector update unless the situation changes. Cluster progress against the Humanitarian Response Plan is published quarterly. Strategic COVID-19 updates will still be issued every two weeks.
According to MOPH data as of 18 February, 55,575 people in Afghanistan have tested positive for COVID-19; 2,430 have died and 48,798 have recovered.
Since the start of March 2020, partners have medically screened 537,764 people at points-of-entry, provided 335,068 people with psychosocial support to cope with the mental health effects of COVID19 and distributed more than 5.6 million bars of soap in 379 districts across the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, some 36 million PPE items have been delivered to the Ministry of Public Health and frontline NGO workers in Afghanistan.
MOPH Figures: MoPH data shows that as of 18 February, 55,575 people across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan are confirmed to have had COVID-19. Some 48,798 people have recovered, and 2,430 people have died – at least 91 of whom are healthcare workers. Only 282,249 people out of a population of 40.4 million have been tested.
Afghanistan now has a test-positivity-rate – positive tests as a percentage of total tests – of more than 19 per cent, suggesting overall under-testing of potential cases. The majority of recorded deaths were men between the ages of 50 and 79. Men account for 67 per cent of the total COVID-19 confirmed cases in the MoPH data, although this may be the result of over-representation of men in testing. Due to limited public health resources and testing capacity, lack of people coming forward for testing, as well as the absence of a national death register, confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 are likely to be under-reported overall in Afghanistan. Stigma is considered a major factor in people choosing not to get tests and risk communications work is critical to turning this around. Stigma is considered a major factor in people choosing not to get tests and risk communications work is critical to turning this around. WHO warns that widespread complacency and failure to follow public health advice is creating grave risks in the community with people generally not observing physical distancing or mask wearing protocols. WHO Afghanistan remains concerned about mutations of the virus. WHO has sent recent COVID-19 samples for genomic sequencing to track for variants and confirm if the mutation is currently present in Afghanistan. WHO suspects this to be the case and reiterates that vigilance should be maintained.
Almost 8 per cent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases are among healthcare staff and they will be the highest priority for vaccination. There is an urgent need to ensure a continued distribution of medical and protective equipment to all corners of the country. While 22 laboratories are now operating in Afghanistan – with plans to scale up to at least one laboratory per province by June 2021 – the capacity of these facilities remains limited and stocks of supplies have periodically run out.
National capacity for COVID-19 testing has reached 8,500 samples a day however these laboratories are not being fully utilised. Humanitarian partners urge the Government to ensure laboratories are appropriately equipped, staff receive timely remuneration and that procured supplies go to under-resourced health centres in a transparent manner so that life-saving support can be delivered to those most in need.
Vaccination: The Government of Afghanistan and the UN have initiated a number of steps to prepare for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country, including the development of a National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP). A technical working group comprised of government and UN organisations and chaired by MoPH has developed plans for vaccine operations, cold chain management, communication, surveillance, training and monitoring and evaluation/data, and will complement the existing Vice Presidential COVID-19 Task Force. On 7 February, Afghanistan received 500,000 doses (one person requires two doses to have a complete course) of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from India, the first vaccine supplies Afghanistan has received to date. The vaccination campaign will begin in the coming days with 128,000 doses available for prioritised groups. A small buffer of about 5 per cent of the total number of available doses through the COVAX facility has been earmarked for humanitarian caseloads although details on how the logistics costs of distribution will be managed are still under discussion. Further discussions are also underway with China on potential donation of additional vaccines.
Socio-economic impacts: The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are translating into a dramatic impact on food insecurity. la Nina weather conditions are being closely monitored with grave concerns about low rainfall and high temperatures over recent week which may exacerbate this situation. An estimated 16.9 million people are already in crisis or emergency food insecurity from November to March, 5.5 million of whom are in ‘emergency’ level food insecurity (IPC 4).
According to WFP’s market monitoring, the average wheat flour price (low price and high price) increased by 13 per cent between 14 March 2020 and 31 January 2021, while the cost of pulses, sugar, cooking oil and rice (low quality) increased by 23 per cent, 21 per cent, 46 per cent, and 19 per cent, respectively, over the same period. This price increase is accompanied by a declining purchasing power of casual labourers and pastoralists – which have both deteriorated by more than 18 per cent (compared to 14 March). These factors, combined with COVID-19 related interruptions to informal employment, are driving people into crippling debt. Data from the Whole of Afghanistan Assessment shows that household debt is rapidly escalating. For displaced households in debt, the primary reason for taking on this debt was to pay for food (53 per cent).
Humanitarian Needs and Response Planning: The newly revised Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2018- 2021 identifies 18.4 million people in humanitarian need in 2021, as a result of COVID-19, ongoing conflict and natural disasters. Approximately six times the number of people are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021 compared to four years ago when the multi-year HRP was first developed. The health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen the number of people in need almost double in the past year alone. Afghanistan now has the second highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world (5.5 million), while nearly one in two children under-five will face acute malnutrition in 2021.
Against this backdrop, the La Niña event is causing below average precipitation, thin snowpack and above average temperatures in most parts of the country and it is expected that farmers and pastoralists will be negatively affected. While details on the degree of impact on agricultural and hydrological environments is still being evaluated, the ICCT has started on common planning around the dry spell, flooding and other contextual factors that will influence the scale of humanitarian needs during the Spring.
Ongoing needs: While implementing activities to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19, humanitarian partners are also continuing to respond to other ongoing and emerging humanitarian needs. During the reporting period, 6,345 women received antenatal and postnatal care through midwives deployed in Mobile Health Teams (MHTs). 1,432 people were treated for trauma care and 788 children under the age of 5 years received routine immunisation through MHTs. 18,686 children aged 6-59 months received treatment for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and 33,806 children aged 6-59 months received treatment for Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). 3,303 women and 10,397 nutritionally at-risk children under the age of 5 years received blanket supplementary feeding. 20,761 pregnant and lactating women (PLW) received assistance through targeted supplementary feeding programmes (TSFP), while 9,500 caregivers received Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) and Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) counselling. 24 Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases across 5 provinces were identified and referred to Family Protection Centres (FPCs) for case management. As part of its regular programming, WFP distributed 1,415 metric tons (mt) of food between 3 and 10 February* .
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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