Afghanistan’s Response to COVID-19 and Disaster Risk Reduction
Afghanistan reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case on February 24, 2020 in Herat province. As the infection spread in March, the government progressively tightened containment measures, by introducing screening at ports of entry, quarantine for infected people, and closure of public places to prevent gathering of crowds. On March 28, it imposed a countrywide lockdown, which was subsequently extended twice. As infection numbers soared throughout March in Herat, the country had difficulty tracking, testing, and isolating new cases. Despite the lockdown in major population centers, the number of cases has continued to surge upwards. The official tally of COVID-19 cases was 36,719 and deaths at 1,284 as of August 5, 2020, though this probably represents a fraction of the real situation on the ground.
Oxfam estimated that the number of people on the brink of famine in Afghanistan has risen to 3.5 million in May 2020 from 2.5 million in September last year (Ahmed, 2020). The Government is working closely with technical partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), humanitarian health cluster partners, International Organization for Migration (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 Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has established committees for the surveillance of COVID-19 at the national and provincial level. At the national level, WHO together with the health cluster has developed and is implementing a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to complement the MOPH Emergency Response Plan for Coronavirus 2020. Additional funding is currently being sought for this plan. The current WHO preparedness plan will be updated to cover response activities and include more inter-sectoral components. At the sub-national level, WHO and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) Western Region (Herat) are supporting the MOPH and humanitarian partners to scale-up their response to COVID-19. Activities that will be financed under the COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility will be coordinated to ensure that gaps are covered, and duplication is minimized.
In March 2020, the MOPH and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), started collaborating and in May 2020 their synergy resulted in the creation of an ActivityInfo, an information management system used to manage data related to COVID-19 response, that linked 34 provinces of Afghanistan with the Crisis Coordination Center in Kabul. ActivityInfo is an information management system developed jointly by government of Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan. The system is used to manage data related to the COVID-19 response.
The President of Afghanistan is providing overall guidance on COVID-19 support and response.
The President has appointed the second vice-president as the overall chair and coordinator of the high-level committee. The Ministry of Finance (MOF), under the guidance of the Minister, through its Aid Management Department, has been coordinating with MOPH, other relevant ministries, and development partners to source emergency assistance funds and has been leading the overall coordination among government agencies and development partners.
The Government of Afghanistan has quickly responded to the COVID-19 emergency, led by MOPH in preparing a National Emergency Response Plan for COVID-19, March 2020 (NERP). It is with close coordination and inputs from the health sector cluster of development partners and other related government and development agencies. The partners are now working with MOPH and the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in coordinating their support for the priorities outlined under this plan. On February 25, 2020, MOF allocated US$25 million to MOPH for COVID-19 support, including key medical supplies, equipment, and hospital facilities (Herat and Nimroz).
The government initially allocated AFN 8 billion (0.5 percent of GDP) equivalent to US$104 million from contingency funds for emergency pandemic response. Of this amount, AFN 1.9 billion or US$24.7 million (0.1 percent of GDP) was earmarked for urgent health needs, such as establishing testing labs, including at border crossings; setting up special wards to boost hospitalization and care capacity; and procuring critical medical supplies.