Afghanistan’s crumbling health service buckles under the combined strain of winter and hunger


When the Telegraph visited last month, staff had not been paid for four months and some of the nurses did not even have the money for the bus fare. Under the previous government three-quarters of the Afghan government budget was provided by foreign donors but the funding stopped overnight in August when the Taliban took power. Donors are unwilling to send money to a regime that took power by force and is refusing to allow girls to attend secondary school.

Hospitals have been left without fuel, food and vital medicines. There are dwindling supplies of special food supplements for malnutrition, as well as antibiotics, analgesics and anaesthetics. Some supplies have come in from aid agencies, but more are needed. Patients are sometimes asked to contribute toward basics like gloves.

Aid agencies have tried to step into the breach. The Red Cross said it had begun paying for running costs, medicines and supplies in 23 regional and provincial hospitals with nearly 8,000 staff. The United Nations is providing money via Unicef and the World Health Organization to keep 2,331 health facilities running  up to the end of this month – this includes paying the salaries of around 25,000 health workers.

Two days after the Telegraph’s visited Indira Gandhi hospital, staff said they had finally received some salary. Such measures are welcome, but doctors do not know how long they will last.

Staff must also deal with their new Taliban masters. The insurgents-turned-rulers have at times appeared more interested in what staff wear, than in running a public health service.


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