The delivery of lifesaving aid and medical supplies to millions of Afghans must not be cut, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, citing a more than threefold rise in the number of trauma cases.

According to the UN health agency, 70 WHO-supported medical facilities across Afghanistan treated nearly 14,000 conflict-related cases last month, which compares with 4,057 cases seen a year ago.    

“Sustained access to humanitarian assistance, including essential health services and medical supplies, is a critical lifeline for millions of Afghans, and must not be interrupted”, said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. 

"I also spoke to the acting Health Minister, Dr. Wahid Majrooh. He is in Kabul working to avoid disruptions and keep essential health services moving. I reassured him that WHO and staff will continue to support the country [#Afghanistan]"-@DrTedros https://t.co/pI1uuiPqyO

— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) August 18, 2021

Addressing the issue  

In a related development, following the Taliban takeover and amid ongoing apprehension over the safety of minorities, rights defenders and others in in the country, the Human Rights Council announced a special session to address “serious human rights concerns”. 

The all-day debate, scheduled for Tuesday, follows an official request submitted yesterday jointly by Pakistan and Afghanistan with the support of 89 countries, to date.   

It also comes after repeated warnings from UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet about the ramifications of failing to stem rising violence in the country and the “disastrous consequences” for the people of Afghanistan. 

Supply shortages 

In a statement, WHO’s Dr. Al-Mandhari explained that months of violence has heavily impacted Afghanistan’s already fragile health system, which continues to face shortages in essential supplies amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO senior official also insisted that the health UN agency is “committed to staying” in Afghanistan, despite the uncertain situation following the Taliban takeover on Sunday. 

On Tuesday, WHO dispatched trauma and burns kit equipment to Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital and enough basic medical kits to assist 10,000 people for three months, Dr. Al-Mandhari said. 

Although initial health needs assessments of displaced populations have been taking place, further interventions “have been on hold for the past 36 hours” owing to insecurity, the WHO official added.   

Displaced and suffering 

Meanwhile, in areas where people have fled in search of safety and shelter –including Kabul and other large cities – there have been increasing cases of diarrhoea, malnutrition and high blood pressure among the displaced.  

“Delays and disruptions to health care will increase the risk of disease outbreaks and prevent some of the most vulnerable groups from seeking life-saving health care”, Dr. Al-Mandhari said. “There is an immediate need to ensure continuity of health services across the country, with a focus on ensuring women have access to female health workers”. 

Attacks on health care workers and facilities remain a major challenge too, with 26 facilities and 31 workers affected between January and July 2021, including the death of 12 health care workers. 

Committed to helping 

The WHO official’s comments came after the top UN aid coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, appealed to the international community for support.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Alakbarov said that while the situation remained “highly complex” humanitarian agencies were committed to supporting vulnerable people in Afghanistan “who need us more than ever”.