Doctors in Afghanistan have expressed fear that the Covid-19 variant first discovered in India is now spreading rapidly in the country.
At Kabul’s main Covid hospital, where all 100 beds are occupied, doctors said that many critically ill patients had recently returned from India. Up to 10 people die here every day.
The Health Ministry reported more than 500 new Covid infections on Friday, but the actual numbers are likely to be much higher as many people continue to recover at home without seeking medical attention.
Facilities to test the B.1.617.2 variant that originated in India are not yet available in Afghanistan, said Health Ministry spokesman Dastagir Nazari. He could not officially confirm whether the variant was spreading in the country.
“We have seen a sharp increase in patients in the last two weeks, many of them need oxygen and many have a history of recently returning from India or having been with returned relatives,” said Dr. Qandagha Hassan, who works at the Hospital. Afghan-Japanese for Communicable Diseases – The main Covid clinic located on the western outskirts of Kabul.
“It is very worrying, especially after seeing how the situation develops in India. We need a blockade and we have asked the government to stop flights between India and Afghanistan, “he said. Several airlines continue to operate regularly between Kabul and Delhi.
Engineer Fazly Noordin, who is in charge of the hospital’s generators and power supply, confirmed that “many of our patients have recently returned from Pakistan and India.”
Now there are no measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 in Afghanistan, including in Kabul, a densely populated city of six million people.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when Afghanistan announced nationwide closures, the economy suffered and unemployment soared, especially among day laborers, and many people turned to begging. In the war-torn country, where security is constantly threatened and people’s finances and sheer survival are a challenge, Covid has taken a backseat.
At the Afghan-Japanese hospital, new patients arrive regularly, some unable to walk, brought by relatives, others by ambulance or taxi. The rooms are full of people. It is hectic and chaotic as new beds are prepared while others are moved outside to be cleaned after a patient has died.
Most of the patients are now receiving noninvasive ventilation, Hassan said, as hospital staff try to get more oxygen balloons.
The hospital is already operating beyond capacity, he explained, adding that he is concerned about the next few weeks.
“Even our outpatient department sees more than 100 people daily, and more than 60% of them test positive,” he said.
Outside the clinic, tents and temporary housing have been set up for relatives of those trying to recover from Covid. Many families have been there for weeks.
Mohammed Safar, 46, said he had been sleeping in one of the shelters for almost a month, waiting for his mother to recover. “My whole family has come here,” he said. “We visit my mother every day.”
Another relative, Ramazan Surobi, 45, said his family was taking turns staying with his brother’s wife. “The room is accessible to us, so I can visit it regularly,” Surobi said.
Nazari from the Health Ministry admitted that Afghanistan would have a difficult time helping all patients if variant B.1.617.2 were to spread throughout the country.
“We now have around 1,500 ICU beds in the country. This could increase to 3,500, ”he said.
Across the capital, Al-Hayat Hospital, a private clinic, has recently opened a small Covid-19 ward, serving up to 10 patients. While government medical care is free, patients here pay between 3,000 and 5,000 Afghans a day (£ 27– £ 45), which, for severe cases, includes ventilation.
Medical director Dr. Jawad Noorzai explained that several private clinics had dealt with Covid-19 cases, and the government was “too weak” to handle them all.
“We are witnessing the third wave now,” he said. “Just a few weeks ago, families celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday together. We have seen cases on the rise since then. ”Many Afghans living abroad, including India, traveled back to be with their families during the holidays.
Noorzai said oxygen was one of his biggest concerns. “It is still easily accessible in the market, but I am concerned about the increase in critically ill patients,” he said.
“The number of infections is skyrocketing, and so are the victims.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism