• Confirmed case: 1
• Suspected cases: 10
• Key concern – border crossing areas in Western province
The basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections include:
• Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
• Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
• Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).
• In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider.
As of 27 February 2020, a total of 82,297 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and 2,805 fatalities have been reported across 47 countries. On 24 February Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported one suspected case had been confirmed in the western province of Hirat. The person had recently travelled from Qom, the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is reported that all schools in Hirat are closed and public gatherings banned until further notice. As of 27 February, MoPH has now confirmed 10 suspected cases (seven in Hirat, two in Ghor and one in Hilmand). The clinical conditions of the confirmed and non-confirmed cases are good. All 10 suspected cases are being kept in isolation wards.
The focus of activities is now both on preparedness and containment. MoPH is working closely with WHO, Health Cluster partners, IOM and other relevant stakeholders to rapidly expand in-country preparedness and containment capacity, strengthen detection and surveillance capacity at points-of-entry into Afghanistan, such as airports and border-crossing sites (especially in the west), to continue the training of medical staff on case-management and risk communication and community engagement, in order to prevent the spread of this outbreak. The level of support and activities in all key areas will need to be expanded rapidly.
Cross Border Concerns
On 26 February, health officials in Pakistan detected the first two cases of COVID-19 in the country. Air travel between Pakistan-China is ongoing with no stoppages. In Iran, health officials have reported 141 cases and 22 deaths as of 27 February.
As of 26 February, the border crossings with Iran at Nimroz and Islam Qala have re-opened after closing on 23 February in Hirat and 23-25 February in Nimroz. Citizens of Afghanistan – both returnees, frequent travellers as well as commercial traffic/trucks – are being allowed into and out of Iran. Surveillance by MoPH screening teams is ongoing in both provinces. Reaction to COVID-19 has been significant amongst the general population with confusion widespread. Awareness raising and sensitization on COVID-19 based on facts remains a key gap, and requires further strengthening.
IOM and WHO are actively supporting response activities with MoPH addressing preparedness and emergency coordination actions in the border provinces with Iran and Pakistan (Nangarhar, Kandahar, Nimroz and Hirat). Support includes: secondment of staff to cross border surveillance; material support; publication of MOPH and WHO Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials; billboards; community level awareness raising and sensitisation efforts through health education sessions and Displacement Tracking Matrix focus group discussions; and use of IOM transit facilities as temporary isolation/quarantine spaces.
The Ministry of Education is working closely with MoPH to develop IEC posters for hygiene and sanitation promotion to be distributed in schools across the country. Similarly, the Education in Emergencies Working Group (EiEWG) is currently working on developing public information campaigns on preventive measures against the COVID-19 to be distributed through schools, community shuras, parents’ associations and teachers. All schools in Hirat – including temporarily learning spaces (TLS) and community-based education (CBE) – are suspended until further notice to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak (although public schools and universities are closed for winter break and will resume on 22 March).