Afghanistan + 2 more

Afghanistan Flash Update: Daily Brief: COVID-19, No. 5 (2 March 2020)

Situation Report
Originally published
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Key Messages:

  • People confirmed to have COVID-19: 1
  • People who are presumptive for COVID-19: 24
  • People who have tested negative for COVID-19: 53
  • Key concern: border crossing areas in the country’s west

(Source Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan)

Basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections include:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
  • Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
  • Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
  • People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).
  • In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider.

Situation Overview:

As of 2 March 2020, a total of 88,913 people have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and 3,043 people have reportedly died across 62 countries. On 28 February, WHO increased its assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to “very high” at the global level – its top level of risk assessment – while stressing that there still is a chance of containing the virus if its chain of transmission is broken. The daily number of new people confirmed to have COVID-19 in China has been stabilising, however since 26 February more people with COVID-19 have been reported outside China. Furthermore, the increasing spread of the virus from and within Italy, Iran and South Korea remains a concern. Travel restrictions by countries are changing rapidly and should be monitored on daily basis.

On 24 February, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported that one person with COVID-19 had been confirmed in the western province of Hirat. The person had recently travelled from Qom in Iran. It is reported that all schools in Hirat are closed and public gatherings banned until further notice. As of 2 March, MoPH is investigating 24 people presumptive for COVID-19 (all in Hirat province). The clinical condition of the person confirmed and those presumptive for COVID-19 is good. All 24 people presumptive for COVID-19 are being kept in isolation wards.

The focus of activities in Afghanistan is on both preparedness and containment. MoPH is working closely with WHO, Health Cluster partners, IOM and other relevant stakeholders to rapidly expand in-country preparedness and containment capacity, to strengthen detection and surveillance capacity at points-of-entry into Afghanistan, such as airports and border-crossing sites (especially in the west), and to continue the training of medical staff on case-management, risk communication and community engagement. The level of support and activities in all key areas will need to be expanded rapidly to manage the further spread of the disease.

As of 2 March, MoPH has 1,600 screening tests and 150 confirmation tests available in-country. Additionally, MoPH has recently established five committees for the surveillance of COVID-19 at the national and provincial level: Points of Entry Committee; Population Surveillance Committee; Data Management Committee; National COVID-19 Contact Tracing Committee; and the Lab Surveillance Committee.

60 UNICEF-supported MHTs are on stand-by across 13 provinces to provide primary health care services in potentially affected areas. In an effort to raise awareness of water, sanitation and hygiene steps to contain the spread of COVID-19, UNICEF, the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR), World Vision International (WVI), International Medical Corps (IMC), Relief International (RI) and Coordination of Afghan Relief (CoAR) have dedicated surge capacity to be able to carry-out awareness campaigns at both community and school-level. This dedicated capacity can swiftly be deployed to border-crossing sites with Iran and Pakistan.

Cross Border Concerns

As of 2 March, there are four people confirmed to have COVID-19 in Pakistan. In Iran, health officials have reported 978 people have COVID-19 and 54 people have died after contracting COVID-19 as of 2 March.

On 1 March, the Spin Boldak border crossing was closed by both Afghan and Pakistani border police, reportedly in connection with COVID-19. The border will remain closed for seven days. However, Pakistan’s main border crossing with Afghanistan - the Torkham border crossing - remains open.

IOM reports that there has been a higher number of spontaneous returnees (citizens of Afghanistan) from Iran during recent days as many labour camps have been closed due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Awareness raising and evidence-based sensitisation on COVID-19 facts remain key gaps and require further strengthening.

IOM and WHO are actively supporting response activities with MoPH to address preparedness and emergency coordination actions in the border provinces with Iran and Pakistan (Nangarhar, Kandahar, Nimroz and Hirat). Support includes: secondment of staff for cross border surveillance; material support; publication of MoPH and WHO Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials; billboards; community-level awareness raising and sensitisation efforts through health education sessions and Displacement Tracking Matrix focus group discussions; and use of IOM transit facilities as temporary isolation/quarantine spaces.


The Ministry of Education is working closely with MoPH to develop IEC posters for hygiene and sanitation promotion to be distributed in schools across the country. Similarly, the Education in Emergencies Working Group (EiEWG) is currently working on developing public information campaigns on preventive measures against COVID-19 to be distributed through schools, community shuras, parents’ associations and teachers. As part of this effort, UNICEF will print and distribute 800,000 IEC leaflets. All schools in Hirat – including temporarily learning spaces (TLS) and community-based education (CBE) – are suspended until further notice to help contain the spread of COVID-19 (although public schools and universities are currently closed for winter break and will resume on 22 March).

In Focus – FAO Key Messages Related to Animals and COVID-19:

While there is ongoing speculation on the likely animal origin of COVID-19, to date, the spread and development of the current human epidemic is due to human-to-human transmission.

People should not handle, slaughter, dress, sell, prepare or consume meat that originates from wild animals or livestock that are sick or that have died from unknown causes. When visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets, general hygiene measures should be applied. These include regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products, as well as avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products.

Raw, wild meat or uncooked dishes based on the blood of wild animals should not be consumed. These practices place people at high risk of contracting any number of infections. Meat from healthy livestock that is cooked thoroughly remains safe to eat.

Any unusual morbidity or mortality of animals should be reported to the animal health authorities.

FAO is working with partners to assist member countries and research communities in identifying potential animal hosts of this virus and reduce spillover to humans.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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