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Afghan health workers defy fears, security challenges to continue treating the sick

An Afghan doctor has told UN News that he is committed to providing essential health services to people who have fled their homes because of the conflict in Afghanistan
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PMA//Arete/Andrew Quilty  -   UN World Food Programme trucks leave Kabul in May 2021 to deliver food to vulnerable communities

UN agencies have pledged to remain in the country, despite the recent Taliban takeover, and to support communities who, even before the latest developments, were in urgent need of help.

Dr Khali Ahmadi* told UN News in an exclusive interview from the Afghan capital, Kabul, that he and other health workers continue to work despite the lack of security and instability in the country, and called on the international community to continue to support Afghanistan.

"In the last few weeks, between 8,000 and 10,000 people have arrived in Kabul from ten provinces following the Taliban advance, and I am part of a team of doctors and nurses providing health care to these new arrivals," he said.

These people fled their homes and now have nothing, no house, no job, hardly any money, and are generally afraid to live in Kabul and are angry that they had to leave their homes. We provide them with a range of services in the IDP camps in the city.

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UNICEF Afghanistan - More than 400 families from Kunduz, Sar-e Pol and Takhar provinces have taken refuge in an institute in southern Kabul
They arrive with diarrhoea and pneumonia

They arrive with many common illnesses and diseases, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. About three-quarters of the people we serve are women and children.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supports this work, so we are able to provide treatment, medicine and food, as well as some COVID-19 screening.

I have been part of a team of six doctors, including three women, who have provided specific services to the women and helped deliver several babies. We also have five nurses on the team. Our working day is very long and hard; I start around 7am and sometimes I can work until midnight, which means that, as a team, we can treat up to 500 people a day.

Sometimes the security situation makes me stay at home. If there are reports of gunshots or other disturbances, as well as roadblocks, the team members decide that it is too dangerous to work. There can be a lot of tension on the streets. Sometimes only the men work.

My female colleagues are, of course, worried about their future, as we all are. They don't know what the future holds for them, whether they will be allowed to continue working as they do now. We don't know if the situation will get worse for women, if it will stay the same or if it will even get better.

We haven't really interacted in any meaningful way with the Taliban since they entered Kabul, although they once came to the camp where we were providing services to ask us what we were doing.

Security is the main concern right now for the displaced, and also for other people in the city, but we are also worried about the lack of medicine and food, as shops and markets are still closed in Kabul.

I am a doctor, so my job is to help and heal people. I feel deeply committed to supporting the Afghan people in this bad hour, but I can only help if I feel safe at work.

My message to the rest of the world is to please help Afghanistan; this is a poor country, but the people here have good hearts, and I will continue to do my best to work and protect all the Afghan people.

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UNICEF - An out-of-school boy, 12, sells bananas in Uruzgan province, western Afghanistan
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assistance

In recent weeks, thousands of IDPs arrived in Kabul from different parts of the country, especially from the northern and north-eastern provinces, as the conflict intensified in the region.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 17,600 IDPs were in need of assistance. Most of the displaced received assistance in the form of food, cash, health care, household items, water and sanitation.

Joining forces with the aid community, the United Nations Development Programme, through its health project, has expanded the work of established mobile health care teams to provide home-based health support to IDPs.

Its 20 teams are providing VOCID-19 screening, risk communication, treatment and referral of critical patients to several temporary camps in Kabul city. In addition to COVID-19 services, the teams are responsible for providing primary and emergency health services to IDPs, especially women and children.

Despite the rapid changes and uncertainty in the aftermath of 15 August 2021, the teams continued their work and continued to provide vital health services to IDPs across the city. The 20 teams coordinate their work with the Ministry of Public Health and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The mobile teams have screened and provided primary health care services to more than 9,000 people since early August, when thousands of people fleeing violence in the north of the country flooded the streets of Kabul.

IDPs received essential drugs and medical kits, and hundreds of critical cases were referred to hospitals. More than 60 per cent of the IDPs who received essential health services were women and children. The teams also provided specialised health services to 629 pregnant women in IDP camps.

The mobile health care teams were established through a joint effort of the UN agency, local NGOs and the Ministry of Public Health. The Programme provides the human resources and transport for the mobile teams, while medicines and supplies are provided by the Ministry of Public Health.

Like the rest of the UN system, UNDP is committed to staying in the country and providing much-needed services to the Afghan population. The agency has been in the country for more than half a century, building vital infrastructure and providing essential services.

*Real name withheld to protect identity.