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Afghanistan: Strategic Situation Report: COVID-19, No. 97 (20 May 2021)

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Situation Overview: UPDATED

Global Update: According to John Hopkins University, more than 3.4 million people across the world have now died due to COVID-19. As of 20 May, the pandemic is affecting 192 countries with some 164 million confirmed cases globally. WHO reports that in the past week, the number of new cases and deaths continued to decrease with just over 4.8 million new cases and just under 86,000 new deaths reported; a 12% and 5% decrease respectively compared to the previous week. Despite a declining trend over the past three weeks, the incidence of cases remains at some of the highest levels since the start of the pandemic. WHO is closely investigating the new variants of the virus and emphasises that public health and social measures, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines remain effective against the new variants.

MOPH Figures: As of 20 May, MoPH data shows that 64,532 people across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan are confirmed to have had COVID-19. Some 55,529 people have recovered, and 2,772 people have died – at least 91 of whom are healthcare workers. Since the start of the pandemic, only 434,506 tests have been conducted for a population of 40.4 million. While numbers currently remain below those seen during the peak of the first and second waves, recent official MOPH figures indicate a deterioration of the situation, potentially signalling a third wave. Afghanistan now has a test-positivity-rate – positive tests as a percentage of total tests – of 15 per cent, suggesting overall undertesting of potential cases. The majority of confirmed cases were men between the ages of 15 and 30, whereas the majority of recorded deaths were men between the ages of 50 and 79. Men account for more than 66 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, 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 underreported 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. WHO warns that widespread complacency and failure to follow public health advice in Afghanistan 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, cases of which have been confirmed in Afghanistan. There is a significant increase in cases of the new, more infectious variant in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. MOPH is preparing for a third wave including scaling-up surveillance at borders and improved testing.

More than 7 per cent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases are among healthcare staff and ensuring these groups are vaccinated is of critical importance. Among the provinces, Hirat, Kabul, Nangarhar and Balkh reported the highest number of cases among healthcare workers. There is an urgent need to ensure continued distribution of medical and protective equipment to frontline workers all corners of the country. 26 laboratories are now operating in Afghanistan – with plans to scale-up to at least one laboratory per province by June 2021. National laboratories are testing 7,500 samples a day. WHO reports that laboratories have capacity to test up to 8,500 samples but low demand means technicians are currently working reduced hours.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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