The people of Afghanistan have faced unprecedented challenges, and they are still struggling to recover after decades of turmoil. Perhaps one of the areas of greatest concern to both humanitarian organizations and the people of Afghanistan is the lack of health care. As the country works to rebuild its infrastructure and to establish public facilities, health care remains a primary need, despite continued pressure from humanitarian organizations and governmental departments. An understanding of both the current health care crisis and the solutions in place will provide direction to organizations that wish to help and ensure that the nation receives the aid that it requires.
Why Is Health Care a Challenge?
As recently as 2003, less than 10% of Afghanistan’s population had access to medical care. Today, nearly 70% of the population now has access to the health care they need, according to the Ministry of Public Health. Over 20,000 health care volunteers spread across 2,200 health care facilities are helping the Ministry of Public Health to deliver services to the nation’s population. With so many individuals working to provide health care, why then does the health care system appear to be in crisis? Some of the problems, experts say, are caused by too many organizations trying to provide assistance with no oversight to ensure that efforts aren’t duplicated and that projects are prioritized.
As a result, while much of the population now lives near a health care facility, the reality is that oftentimes it may not be operational. Recurring staffing issues, a lack of basic health care services, and limited drug availability have hindered the effectiveness of neighborhood care centers, forcing patients to travel long distances in search of assistance. Free health care for citizens may seem appealing, but only if it is available when they actually need it.
What Does the Current Health Care System Look Like?
People seeking urgent care are often unable to find it quickly or easily. Many patients report that they have travelled through areas where fighting is still taking place, traversed areas filled with land mines, experienced harassment on their journeys, or passed through checkpoints in order to obtain medical care. Since patients are often scared to travel at night, family members often set up vigils in the hopes that they survive in order to make it to the hospital.
Difficult circumstances that prevent patients from reaching the hospital have caused some to put off seeking medical care for as long as possible. Nearly half the patients surveyed at one medical facility had waited more than a week before going to a hospital, while 60% of those with a malnourished child waited over a month to seek medical attention.
Going forward, the country must work to establish secure health care facilities, earn the trust of the people, and provide those medical services that are most needed. Women, children, and the elderly have traditionally been among the groups most underserved in the field of health care, and efforts have focused on them with great success. Infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically, as have the number of women who have died during childbirth or as a complication of giving birth.
How Are Organizations Working to Remedy the Situation?
Humanitarian efforts, such as those led by Ehsan Bayat and the Bayat Foundation, concentrate on finding solutions to the health care crisis. Government leaders and health care providers are partnering with local communities to ensure that smaller, community-style health care facilities are adequately equipped and staffed to handle the majority of residents’ needs. As the basic needs of the people are met—including access to clean water, pre- and post-natal care for expectant mothers and babies, immunizations, and regular checkups—the people of Afghanistan are obtaining better health care than ever before.
In addition, humanitarian groups are seeking qualified workers to staff health care facilities. They are particularly interested in hiring female health care workers to provide services to women, further improving their quality of life. Pediatricians and other medical professionals who specialize in pediatrics are also in high demand, as the number of children who now have access to health care has skyrocketed.
By partnering with other organizations that are already working within Afghanistan, humanitarian medical efforts have a greater chance of success. The work within the country requires an understanding of both its current struggles and history. Partnerships with humanitarian groups ensure that people have access to clean water and healthy food. In a nation where malnutrition and hunger are prevalent, addressing these basic needs must be a priority. While the progress within the country has been remarkable, there is still much work to be done. Virtually every area of life within Afghanistan centers around the health and happiness of the people living there. By addressing the population’s health care needs, the country will be able to create jobs, people will be able to work and start families, and the entire nation will benefit as a result.