By: Monitoring Desk
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is actively responding to COVID-19 across Afghanistan under the leadership of the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) with generous financial support totalling EUR 1.25 million from the German Government’s Federal Foreign Office.
Germany’s funding will ensure the deployment of six Rapid Response Teams each one composed of a doctor, nurse and lab technician to engage in active COVID-19 sample collection. Funding will also allow for the continuing deployment of four Mobile Health Teams with ambulances to continue provision of basic primary care inclusive of 20,000 health consultations. These teams will also provide health education sessions to 80,000 persons. IOM’s border level screening teams will continue border level surveillance at major Points of Entry with Iran and Pakistan.
Up to 6,000 returning undocumented Afghan migrants from Iran will be provided with post arrival assistance at IOM transit facilities including cash-based assistance to enable them to return home. Finally, one nationwide round of the Displacement Tracking Matrix’s (DTM) Baseline Mobility Assessment in all 34 provinces will be completed during which Risk Communication and Community Engagement will be prioritized across 12,300 villages and DTM’s network of over 60,000 community influencers.
As of 19 October, Afghanistan has officially confirmed 40,200 COVID-19 infections with 1,492 deaths, however given the limited availability of testing resources, the true rate of infection is believed to be many times higher with recent cross-country studies suggesting millions of infections. Given the scale of cross border returns with over 620,000 migrants returning in 2020 and the resumption of in-person classes at schools and universities with limited adherence to government restrictions due to prevailing economic conditions, Afghanistan is presently entering a second wave of infections after the initial peak in June 2020.
Since late March, IOM’s Migration Health Unit has significantly scaled up services under the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and IOM’s own Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) with support for Personal Protective Equipment provision to government responders; deployment of Rapid Response Teams to collect COVID-19 samples for testing; health education on COVID-19 to migrant populations, government officials, school children and partner organizations; training for frontline health workers on COVID-19 prevention; secondment of over 200 healthcare staff for border level surveillance and screening; provision of ambulances and equipment; rehabilitation of medical facilities; set up of handwashing stations in schools, and major border crossing points and Risk Communication and Community Engagement work through IOM’s social mobilizers and Displacement Tracking Matrix field teams.
The experience of many Afghans has been daunting. Abdullah, 49, lives in the western Afghan city of Heart – the epicentre of the first outbreak in the country in February. He fell sick with COVID-19 in September, suffering from cough, fever, malaise and a severe headache. His condition worsened and he experienced difficulty breathing. Public health officials referred Abdullah to one of IOM’s Rapid Response Teams to gather another sample for testing. The IOM team visited him at home and collected samples from Abdullah and his family members.
Abdullah stayed at home for a two-week period until a further test was completed and a negative result was received. “Without IOM’s critical support to underline the dangers of COVID-19, the outcome for my family could have been much worse.”
“Although most people are now aware of the dangers represented by COVID-19, we continue to see limited adherence to recommended prevention protocols,” says IOM Afghanistan’s Migration Health lead, Dr Mohiuddin Khan. “The high rate of health worker infections in Afghanistan has resulted in a major decline in hospital visits and rates of testing, therefore it is now more important than ever to continue a robust COVID-19 response while ensuring continuing access to life-saving basic primary care for the most marginalized and vulnerable populations. IOM’s message is clear – this is not over and everyone needs to be an active agent in resolving the pandemic.”