The purpose of this Humanitarian Access Strategy for the 2020 Afghanistan COVID-19 response is to assist humanitarian partners in achieving the additional activities and requirements stemming from the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with a particular focus on access related impediments to the response.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to significantly affect Afghanistan due to its weak health system and limited capacity to deal with major disease outbreaks. Afghanistan’s close proximity to the Islamic Republic of Iran – a global hotspot for the virus – puts the country at heightened risk, with tens of thousands of people and commercial movements across the border from Iran each day. High internal displacement, low coverage of vaccination required for stronger immune systems and augmented ability to fight viral and bacterial infections), in combination with weak health, water and sanitation infrastructure, only worsen the situation.
As of 25 March, there were 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan across 12 provinces, including Kabul, with a high likelihood of many more unconfirmed cases due to a limited amount of testing kits and laboratories. The first death from COVID-19 was confirmed on 22 March in Balkh Province involving a 40-year man with no travel history outside the country, which signals community level spread.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19 in Iran, prevention and preparedness activities in Afghanistan will initially focus on provinces and districts that are considered to be at highest risk due to the volume of cross-border movement. This initial three-month plan is primarily focused on the 25 districts that are the primary destinations for returnees from Iran, with Hirat, Nimroz, Kabul, Balkh, Faryab being at the highest risk due to their greater connectivity to outbreak provinces in Iran. The Afghan Minister of Health warned that up to 16 million Afghans could get infected, resulting in deaths in the tens of thousands.
It is considered almost certain that the virus will spread to other provinces, with rapid community transmission favoured by a current lack of awareness about social distancing and crowded living conditions. Beyond areas already affected, large IDP settlements and areas with limited access to health and WASH facilities are most at risk.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.