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Afghan Hospitals’ Funding Crisis and Surge in Patients Place Doctors Under Pressure


[On June 28, 2023, at 2:00 a.m. EDT, brave women and girls patiently await their turn in the corridor of the district hospital of Shindand in Afghanistan’s Herat province. The hospital, built by the U.S., has been caught off guard by the overwhelming surge in patients. Doctors have had to repurpose staff space, resulting in overcrowding, and even resorted to prescribing single doses of drugs that should be taken in three doses. Sadly, some patients with severe conditions have been turned away due to a lack of available beds.

The rural health sector in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating amidst a prolonged economic crisis. Doctors, nurses, and local officials are witnessing an increasing number of patients who, until recently, would have sought private healthcare for a small fee. However, due to a depletion of savings, these individuals have no choice but to seek care in public hospitals. Foreign donors, preoccupied with other crises and hesitant to support the new Afghan authorities, have contributed to the declining state of the health system.

The United Nations has deemed Afghanistan as facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Despite this, the Taliban-run government claims that its clinics are functioning well, while simultaneously appealing to the international community for additional funding and the lifting of sanctions. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story. The number of patients seeking services has significantly increased, even as available funding remains the same. The United Nations has recorded only about 10 percent of the required funding for its Afghanistan response plan, leading to a substantial budget reduction. The World Food Program has also scaled back its emergency response programs, leaving millions of Afghans without crucial assistance.

In Shindand’s hospital, staff members predict that patient numbers could double in the coming months due to the combination of factors, including the economic crisis, foreign donor hesitancy, and a prolonged regional drought. Unfortunately, doctors do not hold much hope for assistance from the cash-strapped Taliban government. Many medical professionals are deeply disappointed with the West, whose support and funding have dwindled along with the military pullout.

Previously, the presence of foreign troops ensured a steady inflow of money, enabling the construction of the $5 million Shindand hospital overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, since the Taliban’s takeover, development projects that could have provided economic relief have stalled. The Taliban’s restrictions on women’s rights, resulting in the abandonment of half the population, have led to the withdrawal of some organizations and a reduction in others’ presence. The Western military pullout has caused a decline in funding, leaving medical staff struggling. During the summer of 2021, as the Taliban made rapid gains and the West prepared to leave, hospital staff members went unpaid for months, leaving their families in desperate situations.

The funding shortfall not only affects the day-to-day operations of healthcare facilities but also leaves Afghanistan vulnerable to potential epidemics or major natural disasters. The scarcity of supplies and teams to respond adequately poses a significant risk. Health workers in rural areas are particularly concerned about the rising number of acute watery diarrhea cases but lack the resources to address the situation effectively.

As the Taliban-run government seeks to further segregate female and male sections, hospitals are already experiencing difficulties finding female doctors. The ban on women studying in universities, implemented in December, is expected to worsen staff shortages. The reluctance of foreign donors to fund Afghan projects will have far-reaching consequences, including currency depreciation and increased poverty rates.

Despite these challenges, the resilience and dedication of Afghan health professionals remain steadfast. Their tireless efforts to provide care in the face of adversity deserve recognition and support from the global community.


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