Despite the constitutional promise from the state to provide health care to its citizens, Afghanistan remains unable to fulfill its pledge, leaving millions of its citizens struggling with poverty and poor health. Extreme poverty and falling income rates further stress the failing health care system. The UNDP reported in September 2021 that 97% of the population faced a risk of falling into poverty by the middle of 2022. Thankfully, despite the poor state of Afghanistan’s health care system, the medical community is receiving international financial and medical aid from organizations, including the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders.
Afghanistan’s Health Care System
The Afghan government implemented a new constitution in 2004, with Article 52 stating, “The state shall provide free preventative health care and treatment of diseases as well as medical facilities to all citizens in accordance with the provisions of the law.” With the assistance of international and domestic donors, Afghanistan created a health care system intending to take the burden of medical care and costs off its citizens regardless of financial status. The progress made over 17 years led to health improvements nationwide and costs minimizing exponentially.
Before the Taliban assumed full control of Afghanistan in 2021, the Afghan government passed countless measures to expand the country’s health care system. Slowly but surely, Afghanistan had begun broadening how much the government’s health care system could do for its people and expanding operations into the rural regions. Under the health care system, Afghanistan had more than 3,000 state-run hospitals and clinics, meaning each district and region at least had access to some form of health care.
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, donors paused or fully stopped their funding of the Afghan health care system. Afghanistan’s failing health care system must deal with and navigate the resurgence of rising poverty rates in conjunction with devastating issues, such as increasing malnutrition, rising maternal mortality rates and the continued spread of polio.
The Shortcomings of Afghanistan’s Health Care System
After the Taliban assumed power in 2021, all previous improvements made by the health care system fell apart. Less than 10 years after the constitutional commitments to improve health, Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate reduced to around 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. However, by the end of 2021, mere months after the system’s collapse, the maternal mortality rate rose to around 630 deaths per 100,000 births.
What remains of Afghanistan’s failing health care system is minimal and centralized in the largest cities as the country could not keep the rural hospitals and clinics open when international donors pulled their funding.
In 2020, 47% of Afghanistan’s population lived in poverty, but by 2021, 97% became susceptible to falling into conditions of poverty by mid-2022. The pulling of financial assistance from all international partners and allies sent Afghanistan into a humanitarian crisis with soaring poverty rates and limited access to basic resources. These inadequacies contribute to worsening health as lacking food causes malnutrition and poor access to water and sanitation causes illnesses including diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid. To make matters worse, the inflated prices of goods in the country, especially medical resources, deter people from seeking medical assistance as they cannot afford these costs.
Organizations Improving Afghan Health Care
Afghanistan’s failing health care system has garnered international attention. As the underfunded health care system faces daily struggles, international organizations are trying to bring relief to Afghans without bringing power to the Taliban. The greatest source of income for Afghanistan’s health care system is the United Nations. In September 2022, the U.N. promised its first batch of emergency funds for Afghanistan. The U.N. released $45 million to various non-government organizations (NGOs) that will bring immediate and long-term assistance to Afghans in need of health care.
Doctors Without Borders brings medical personnel and resources to hospitals throughout Afghanistan and even opened new trauma centers to help Afghans needing immediate assistance. The work of Doctors Without Borders brings help to the regions most impacted by a lack of water and sanitation access, where the risk of waterborne diseases and other illnesses is high.
The NGOs supporting Afghanistan are easing the economic and poverty challenges that Afghans face daily while supporting Afghanistan’s collapsing health care system. The health care system is finding support from international organizations as the health of citizens and the humanitarian crisis worsen. Afghanistan’s citizenry will find relief through international assistance.
– Clara Mulvihill