Pakistan helping in plans to fly medical supplies to Afghanistan: WHO
"We're trying to jump through that hoop at the moment."
UNITED NATIONS (APP) - Pakistan is supporting efforts to fly humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan where medical stocks are dwindling and the airport in Kabul crippled by a terrorist attack, a senior Wold Health Organization (WHO) said in Geneva Friday.
“We have only a few days of supplies left and we’re exploring all options to bring more medicines into the country,” Dr. Rick Brennan, Regional Emergency Director with the WHO Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO), speaking during the bi-weekly briefing by UN agencies.
He told reporters the first Pakistani flight carrying humanitarian supplies will hopefully leave in the coming days to Mazar-i-Sharif.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also establishing a “humanitarian airbridge”, with flights also expected to take off soon.
Meanwhile, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujrarric told APP that during Secretary-General Antonio Guterres phone conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday, he thanked for Pakistan’s support for UN operations in Afghanistan and their generosity towards Afghan refugees.
Prior to Thursday’s attack, WHO had planned three airlifts of trauma kits, emergency health kits, essential medicines and supplies for hospitals and health centres in Afghanistan, but the items remained grounded due to security and operational issues at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, kit was pointed out.
The blasts on Thursday targeted Afghans fleeing the country and military personnel securing the facility. More than 170 people were killed, according to media reports. The ISIS- K has claimed responsibility.
The UN condemned the attack, and has stressed the critical importance of the airport for facilitating the entry of aid workers and humanitarian relief. Although around 97 per cent of the roughly 2,200 health facilities in Afghanistan are functioning, they are running short of supplies to treat people affected by conflict, displacement, drought, malnutrition, and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of security concerns and several other operational considerations, Kabul airport is not going to be an option for the next week at least,” Dr. Brennan said.
“One of the challenges we have in Afghanistan right now is there’s no Civil Aviation Authority functioning. But we are working with the Pakistanis, particularly in the context of Mazar-i-Sharif Airport, because they can work with contacts on the ground to ensure that all the necessary steps to land an aircraft, to land a cargo aircraft, can be put in place”.
He added that insurance costs for bringing an aircraft into Afghanistan have “skyrocketed” overnight, reaching prices never seen before.
“We’re trying to jump through that hoop at the moment,” said Dr. Brennan. “Once we can address that, we will hopefully be airborne in the next 48 to 72 hours”.
The terrorist attack has accelerated tensions and volatility in a country where nearly half the population, or 18 million people, were already dependent on humanitarian relief even before the Taliban seized power. An ongoing UN appeal for $1.3 billion is less than 40 per cent funded.
Asked about the impact the attack had on hospitals in Kabul, Dr. Brennan reported that a WHO partner, the Italian NGO Emergency, which runs a trauma hospital in the city, has been “overwhelmed” in treating victims, who reportedly number more than 200.
“Of course, getting access to supplies is urgent, and we understand that they’ve got great pressure on their supplies right now. So our proposed air shipment in the next couple of days will be bringing in more trauma kits,” he said.
The UN continues to underline its commitment to stay in Afghanistan. More than 100 international staff, and around 3,000 national colleagues, remain in the country.
WHO, which has some 700 personnel located in all 34 provinces nationwide, said it is especially concerned about the health needs of women and children.
The agency said it fears a rollback in progress made over the past two decades, which saw maternal mortality rates drop by roughly 60 per cent and child mortality by around 50 per cent.
Even though Afghanistan falls short of international standards in availability of doctors and nurses for its population, thousands of health professionals were also trained during this period, including women doctors, nurses and midwives.
“Already we’re hearing that some female health workers are not attending work, and that there has been a decline in the attendance of women and children at some facilities,” Dr. Brennan said.
“This again highlights the need to ensure the availability of medical supplies to support female health workers in their work, and to encourage families to bring their mothers, females, girls, and children, to seek health care when they need it”.
Asked why women health workers were reluctant to go to work, Dr. Brennan said WHO assumed they were being cautious as the agency had not received any reports about physical or other restrictions blocking women from their jobs.
Thousands of Afghans have been fleeing abroad since the Taliban took over, and Dr. Brennan noted that health workers are also part of this “enormous brain drain”.
Looking ahead, WHO will be working with donors, partners and the Afghan health authorities in the coming weeks to ensure continued support for the country’s health system.
“For the past week or so, the eyes of the world have been focused on that major air operation at Kabul airport. But once that evacuation mission ends the enormous humanitarian needs will continue and our work will then enter a new phase which will bring complexities on a scale that we have not seen before,” Dr. Brennan said.
“In spite of these challenges, WHO and the UN will be there for the people of Afghanistan.”