Global Update: According to John Hopkins University, the number of people worldwide who have died with COVID-19 is more than 1.8 million, with many regions still reporting surging numbers of new infections as part of a second and sometimes a third wave of the pandemic. The pandemic has spread to 191 countries with more than 82 million confirmed cases, as of 30 December. WHO reports that the emergence of new COVID-19 variants is common However, those with higher speed of transmission or potentially increased pathogenicity are very concerning. Crucial investigations are underway to comprehensively understand the behaviour of the new mutant virus (B117) and steer response accordingly
Country-level Coordination: The Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for 2021 was published on 19 December 2020. The HNO report that forty years of war, recurrent natural disasters, increasing poverty and COVID-19 are devastating the people of Afghanistan. The onset of COVID-19 has had catastrophic consequences for people’s health, incomes and levels of debt. The economic and social conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic have also exacerbated protection risks for vulnerable families, many of whom had already depleted limited financial, mental, and social coping capacities due to prolonged conflict or recurrent natural disasters. The additional stress from the pandemic has pushed households to adopt negative coping mechanisms, including increasingly requiring children to work or marry to offset financial burdens.
MOPH Figures: As of 31 December, MoPH data showed that 51,526 people across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan are confirmed to have had COVID-19. Some 41,727 people have recovered, and 2,188 people have died – at least 86 of whom are healthcare workers. Only 165,628 people out of a population of 36.7 million have been tested. Afghanistan now has a testpositivity-rate – positive tests as a percentage of total tests – of 31 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 68 per cent of the total COVID-19 confirmed cases in the MoPH data, although this may be the result of overrepresentation 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. This is supported by the results of an early seropositivity study by MoPH, Johns Hopkins and WHO that estimated 30 per cent of the population had been exposed to COVID-19 by June 2020. 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.
Second Wave: The MoPH has confirmed that Afghanistan is in a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following two months of consistently lower confirmed COVID-19 cases, MoPH tracking data is starting to reflect an uptick in cases, with 84 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the last 24 hours. Furthermore, suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 are again rising in the western part of the country in particular. While the official numbers across the country are not yet at the same level as the May/June peak, when taken together with reports of increased hospitalisations for COVID-19-like symptoms, the need for vigilance should be reinforced. The rollout of the annual influenza vaccination across Afghanistan will be more important than ever to help the health system manage the rise in COVID-19 cases. Increasing influenza vaccine coverage can reduce the strain on the health care system and free-up limited health resources to focus on treating more severe cases of COVID-19. Public health experts strongly urge the public to follow health advice on physical distancing, mask wearing, good hygiene, hand washing and other proven strategies that mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission amid this second wave.
Health Services: Hospitals and clinics continue to report challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19, as well as maintaining essential health services, especially in areas of active conflict. WHO stresses the need to balance the demands of responding directly to COVID-19, with simultaneously engaging in strategic planning and coordinated action to maintain essential health service delivery, mitigating against the risk of system collapse.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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