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Foreign aid drops sharply as Taleban abuses jeopardise Afghan health system, says HRW

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Human Rights Watch (HRW)said yesterday that Afghanistan’s public health system has been hit hard following a sharp reduction in foreign assistance, coupled with serious Taleban abuses against women and girls, jeopardising the right to healthcare of millions of Afghans.

In a new report, the New York-based watchdog said this has left the “Afghan population increasingly vulnerable to severe malnutrition and illness” among other effects of inadequate medical care.

The Taleban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions against the Taleban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves, have cut off access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

In 2023, the World Food Program warned that malnutrition rates in Afghanistan were at a record high with half the country suffering from severe hunger throughout the year.

“Women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the healthcare crisis, particularly because of Taleban abuses,” said the report.

The Taleban have barred women from most areas of public life and work and stopped girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade as part of harsh measures they imposed after taking power.

Taleban restrictions on women’s freedom of movement and employment have gravely limited their access to health services, the HRW report said, while bans on education have blocked almost all training of future female healthcare workers in the country. “The loss of foreign development aid and Taleban rights violations have caused a catastrophic health crisis in Afghanistan that is disproportionately harming women and girls,” the report quoted Afghanistan researcher at HRW Fereshta Abbasi as saying.

She added that “the cost of treatment and medicine has put care out of reach for many Afghans.”

HRW remotely interviewed 46 Afghan and foreign aid officials, healthcare workers, and people seeking healthcare in 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces between February 2023 and January 2024.

Fifteen of the interviewees, 12 women and three men, were with Afghans who had sought health care. The rights group also talked to Afghan healthcare officials, 10 women and eight men.

An Afghan girl carries donated aid to her tent after an earthquake in Herat province, Afghanistan. PHOTO: AP