The COVID-19 pandemic hit Afghanistan at a time when country was vulnerable, lacking the systems to adequately respond to the disease and to the needs of the vulnerable population. The government lacked the means to provide adequate communications, contact tracing, sample collection and testing.
When the virus first hit Afghanistan in February, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) had only one dedicated hospital for the provision of COVID-19 related services, including collecting samples for testing, the Afghan Japan Hospital. By May, another hospital in Kabul, Ali Jinah Hospital, was also dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients in the capital. The outpatient and inpatient load in both hospitals was very high, making it difficult to provide the needed health services and case detection.
With these limitations in the system, MoPH requested UNDP to support establishment of fixed centers and Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) in Kabul to meet the basic needs of a large city with an estimated six million population. To respond to the needs of the health sector, UNDP supported MoPH with the establishment of 15 fixed centers, 11 Rapid Response Teams and two home-based care outreach teams in Kabul, to provide sample collection, case detection, contract tracing and risk communication services in the city.
The fixed centers and rapid response teams (RRT) are comprised of medical doctors, nurses and lab technicians, while the RRTs also include dedicated community mobilizers, who provide risk communication and health education for target population. The fixed teams have been located at schools within reach of communities making it easy for people to get access to the diagnostic health centers, reducing the chances of spread of the virus due to crowding in the two dedicated hospitals. The teams have the responsibility for sample collection, referral of the severe cases to the designated hospitals and providing health education for the suspected patients.
These teams have played vital role in case detection since their establishment in mid-April. They have managed to collect more than 20,000 samples from various parts of the Kabul. In addition, the teams have provided dedicated risk communication and health education sessions to thousands of citizens on a regular basis.
“The Ministry of Public Health appreciates the effectiveness and timely intervention of this project, addressing the real and urgent need of people in this critical time. Through this project we were able to detect and diagnose thousands of COVID-19 patients” said Dr Bashir Noormal Deputy Minister of Health. He added “While we appreciate the support provided by UNDP/Global Fund, we would like to continue our partnership for improving health care systems in Afghanistan”
In total, between the establishment of the teams in mid-April to mid July 2020, they managed to collect 21,498 samples, detect 5041 confirmed cases in Kabul and referred severe cases to hospitals for treatment. The centers also provided health education and risk communication services to more than 20,000 suspected patients and advised them to home quarantine where necessary. As a result of this program, the whole city of Kabul and Surobi district was covered and COVID-19 related testing and risk communication services were provided.