Can Afghanistan win its latest battle, COVID-19?

By Ali M Latifi

VIDC online magazine Corona Special

This article was published in the VIDC online magazine Corona Special May 2020. If you what to receive the quarterly online magazine, invitations and documentaries please subscribe here.

Further readings

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC): (retrieved 15 May 2020)

ToloNews: (retrieved 15 May 2020)

Noorzai, Roshan. (2020). Afghan Taliban say they’ll suspend fighting in their areas if Coronavirus hits. Voice of America (VoA): (retrieved 15 May 2020)

Latifi, Ali M (2020). Afghan runner-up bars electoral officials from leaving country. Al Jazeera English: (retrieved 15 May 2020)

About the author

Ali M Latifi was born in Kabul and raised in California. He has been reporting from Afghanistan since 2011. He has written for Al Jazeera English, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNN and several other international outlets. Outside of Afghanistan, he has reported from Washington, Doha, Turkey (Istanbul and Gaziantep) and Greece (Athens and Lesvos).

Coffee Shop in Kabul, © Roya Heydary

Though the nation’s health system has long struggled to keep pace with the growing population — three doctors for every 10,000 people —  the coronavirus is testing the limits of understaffed, underfunded and undersupplied hospitals and clinics around the country. Doctors at Kabul’s Stomatology hospital, which deals specifically with treatment of illnesses of the mouth, said their staff of 100 had run out of face shields, and had resorted to making their own using office supplies. At the Isteqlal Hospital in the West of the city, doctors said they had at least one patient they suspected of being COVID positive, but had no way of testing him to be sure. Even more troubling is the fact that there are only 300 ventilators, machines that move breathable air in and out of the lungs for patients who are unable to breathe normally on their own, in the country. In late April, the presidential palace approved the purchase of 500 additional ventilators, however, with the number of confirmed cases growing by the day, there are fears that even that may not be enough.

Add to this, an unemployment rate hovering between 30 and 40 percent, an ongoing political crisis wherein the top two finishers declared themselves victorious in last year’s presidential polls and a shaky peace agreement between Washington and the Taliban, and it becomes clear that the coronavirus has come at one of the most tumultuous times in a nation that has already dealt with more than 40 years of unrest and instability. The long-standing political tensions between President Ashraf Ghani and his former Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, date back to the 2014 ballot, when Abdullah accused Ghani of widescale, government-assisted fraud. Those allegations led to a months-long fallout, a UN-assisted audit of all the votes cast in the runoff between the two men and finally, a political settlement brokered by then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, that saw Abdullah given the newly-created role of Chief Executive. For months, foreign donors, including the United States, have reprimanded both parties and insisted they come to a settlement so they can focus on the long-delayed talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.