by Athena Rayburn, Save the Children Afghanistan Director of Advocacy and Communications
After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic in March 2020, many countries, especially the wealthiest ones, have not paid too much attention. At least until countries like Italy and Spain were overwhelmed by the first wave of Covid-19: only then did the world begin to realize how devastating that virus could have been.
As nations with good health systems began to feel the pressure of the virus, the first cases of Covid-19 appeared in places like Afghanistan or crowded refugee camps. Concern has grown exponentially: if the situation was difficult for the richer countries, how would we have supported those without resources?
At the beginning of the pandemic it was often said that “it would never be the same again”, there was talk of global solidarity and of protecting the most vulnerable. Would our global systems, whose job is to protect human rights, dignity and equality, have done what they should actually have done, ensuring that no one was left behind?
More than a year later, if Afghanistan is the example, then it is clear that we are all wrong. As is often the case, it is the children who pay the highest price. With record numbers of cases, schools in Afghanistan have closed again. Meanwhile, rich and already vaccinated nations celebrate a return to normal life, a normality simply not accessible to countries with empty pockets.
Afghanistan has received less than 1 million doses of the vaccine: about half a million AstraZeneca vaccines from India and Sinopharm doses purchased from China. To date, less than 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated, and Afghanistan is nowhere near its initial goal of vaccinating 20 percent of the population (just under 8 million) by the end of 2021.
Since May 1, Covid-19 cases are estimated to have increased by more than 700 percent in Afghanistan and is probably a downward estimate. The shipment of 3 million doses promised by the WHO via COVAX has been postponed for months due to supply problems, as reported this week. Without stocks, the vaccination campaign in Afghanistan is at a standstill.
With schools closed again to control infections, Afghan children – who have already lived their whole lives in war – have once again lost their only chance to build a better future. The latest data from Save the Children – the international organization that has been fighting for over 100 years to save children at risk and guarantee their future – show that Afghan minors may have lost up to 13 per cent of their school education, with figures reaching 21 per cent for girls and boys and these numbers are likely to rise.
Another Save the Children research from late 2020 reveals that 82 percent of children surveyed in Afghanistan learned “a little” or “nothing” during school closures due to poverty, lack of access to materials didactics and teachers and, for girls, due to the increase in housework. Save the Children and its partners continue to work alongside the government of Afghanistan to reduce the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities, as far as is possible without equal access to the vaccine.
In the last year we have learned several things: to know the loneliness and the loss; how fragile our health systems are, even in the most developed countries; we have learned that the only way to end a pandemic is to eliminate it everywhere; we realized the threat of new, more contagious and deadly variants, or worse, variants for which our vaccines are ineffective.
In an effort to reduce the risk of new variants, some countries such as the UK have delayed the second dose of the vaccine for up to 12 weeks, as scientific evidence has clearly shown that vaccinating multiple people with one dose is more effective than giving two doses. less people.
The fact that this same logic is not applied to countries like Afghanistan (which are unable to purchase or manufacture vaccines) to give them the opportunity to start giving the first dose to the population is nothing short of hypocritical. Declarations of global solidarity are empty words without concrete action.
While in some countries nearly 60 percent of the population has already received two doses, in countries like Afghanistan – now hit by a devastating third wave comparable to the first waves that swept Europe last year – supplies have run out.
The international community, especially countries with excess doses, must promptly fulfill their global obligation to distribute vaccines to countries like Afghanistan that do not have the means to purchase or manufacture them.
Until this shameful global injustice is resolved, Afghan children will suffer the worst consequences.