The next Strategic Situation Report will be released on 4 February
Situation Overview: UPDATED
Global Update: According to John Hopkins University, the number of people worldwide who have died with COVID-19 is more than 2 million, with many regions still reporting surging numbers of new infections as part of a second and sometimes a third wave of the pandemic. The pandemic is affecting 191 countries with almost 97 million confirmed cases globally, as of 21 January. WHO reports that while the emergence of new virus variants is common, those with higher speed of transmission or potentially increased pathogenicity (i.e. the capacity of a microbe to cause damage in a host) are very concerning. Crucial investigations are underway to comprehensively understand the behaviour of the new virus mutation (B117) and steer the response accordingly.
Country-level Coordination: The revised Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2018-2021 was published on 9 January. The HRP identifies 18.4 million people – nearly half the population – are in humanitarian need in 2021, as a result of COVID-19, ongoing conflict, and natural disasters. Approximately six times the number of people are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021 compared to four years ago when the multi-year HRP was first developed.
The health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen the number of people in need almost double in the past year alone. Afghanistan now has the second highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world (5.5 million), while nearly one in two children under-five will face acute malnutrition in 2021.
MOPH Figures: As of 21 January, MoPH data shows that 54,483 people across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan are confirmed to have had COVID-19. Some 46,887 people have recovered, and 2,370 people have died – at least 87 of whom are healthcare workers. Only 234,453 people out of a population of 40.4 million have been tested. Afghanistan now has a test-positivity-rate – positive tests as a percentage of total tests – of 23 per cent, suggesting overall under-testing of potential cases. The majority of recorded deaths were men between the ages of 50 and 79. Men account for almost 68 per cent of the total COVID-19 confirmed cases in the MoPH data, although this may be the result of overrepresentation of men in testing. Due to limited public health resources and testing capacity, lack of people coming forward for testing, as well as the absence of a national death register, confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 are likely to be under-reported overall in Afghanistan. Stigma is considered a major factor in people choosing not to get tests and risk communications work is critical to turning this around. WHO warns that widespread complacency and failure to follow public health advice is creating grave risks in the community with people generally not observing physical distancing or mask wearing protocols.
Second Wave: In November 2020, MoPH confirmed that Afghanistan was in a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following months of consistently lower confirmed COVID-19 cases, MoPH tracking data has seen an uptick in cases, with 80 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the last 24 hours, although numbers now appear to be slowing. WHO Afghanistan remains concerned about mutations of the virus. WHO has sent recent COVID-19 samples for genomic sequencing to track for variants and confirm if the mutation is currently present in Afghanistan. WHO suspects this to be the case and reiterates that vigilance should be maintained.
The rollout of the annual influenza vaccination across Afghanistan this winter is more important than ever to help the health system manage COVID-19 cases. Increasing influenza vaccine coverage can reduce the strain on the health care system and free-up limited health resources to focus on treating more severe cases of COVID-19. Public health experts strongly urge the public to follow health advice on physical distancing, mask wearing, good hygiene, hand washing and other proven strategies that mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Health Services: Hospitals and clinics continue to report challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19, as well as maintaining essential health services, especially in areas of active conflict. WHO stresses the need to balance the demands of responding directly to COVID-19, with simultaneously engaging in strategic planning and coordinated action to maintain essential health service delivery, mitigating against the risk of system collapse.