Covid-19 incidence high in Herat, Kabul and Nimroz

KABUL (Pajhwok): Official figures indicate one of every 278 individuals has contracted the coronavirus in Herat, Kabul and Nimroz provinces. In comparison, one of 4,200 people is infected by the virus in Uruzgan, Helmand and Faryab. Local sources assigned the following reasons for the registration of fewer positive cases compared to the population of a province:

In Helmand, under-reporting of coronavirus cases is tied to raising public awareness about Covid-19, vast provincial area and remote location of health facilities. In Uruzgan, the reasons include the lack of public awareness, the locals’ inadequate access to social media, delays in Covid-19 test results, stagmatisation the disease and raw belief that Muslims do not contract the coronavirus does not contract Muslims.

In Faryab, delays in coronavirus test results, a low level of confidence in health centres and the perception that the disease is a political game are among the factors behind the under-reporting of coronavirus cases. However, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) denies delays in test results. It says fewer cases have been reported in the three provinces because people follow health guidelines there. Some people are ashamed of the disease and do not go to health clinics.

The ministry attributed the high percentage of positive cases in Kabul and Herat to their big populations. One reason for the higher incidence of Covid-19 in Herat and Nimroz is that the two provinces share borders with Iran, where the pandemic spread earlier. People often illegally cross the border.

Covid-19 emerged in China and the first case in Afghanistan was recorded in March last year. By June, the number of infected people reached its highest level. According to MoPH, in Afghanistan, 52,428 positive cases, 2,295 deaths and 41,901 recoveries from the virus have been recorded so far. Western Herat province, which shares a border with Iran, has a population of more than 2.14 million. As of now, it has recorded 8,418 positive cases of Covid-19 — about 0.39 percent of the population.

With a population of more than 5.2 million, Kabul has so far recoded 18,007 positive Covid-19 cases (1.2 percent of the total population). Nimroz, another province having a border with Iran, has a population of more than 183,000 and 611 positive cases of the coronavirus (0.33 percent of the population) have been reported there. However, Uruzgan, Helmand and Faryab provinces have reported fewer cases of the disease than other province.

Uruzgan, one of the central provinces of the country, has an area of around 12,500 kilometers and a population of over 775,000. According to MoPH, as of December 28, a total of 143 positive cases (0.02 of total population) have been registered in the province. At least five people have died of the disease in Uruzgan. Dr. Abdul Ghafar Watanwal, director of the public health in Uruzgan, says insecurity, lack of public awareness, delays in coronavirus test results and inadequate public access to social media have led to the reporting of fewer positive Covid-19 cases.

Watanwal adds there is still no laboratory for the virus tests and they send samples to Kandahar for testing. But more people are now visiting Covid-19 Hospital, compared to the past. Javed Khpalwak, a civil society activist in Uruzgan, said about the low recording of positive cases: “Our community is traditional. Some ulema are spreading rumours that the virus is contracted only by infidels. For this reason, few people in Uruzgan go to health facilities.” According to him, treating patients like criminals and calling come people feel embarrass of contract the diseases has also caused many people not to go to the hospital and seek treatment from pharmacies willfully.

Helmand, which borders Uruzgan province, has reported fewer positive cases than any other province. Helmand is located in southwest of Afghanistan and has an area of 61,829 square kilometres and a population of over 1.4 million. At least 327 positive Covid-19 cases (0.02 of the population) have been registered in the province as of December 28, 2020.

Dr. Abdul Ahad Hazam, Helmand’s director of public health, admitted there were fewer cases of Covid-19 in province because its area was very wide and public gatherings there were not frequent. Another factor behind the small number of positive cases in the province was that there were 108 health centres and a special team was active at each centre to promote awareness among the people about the coronavirus.

He added people followed health guidelines and avoided visiting crowded places, because they worked on their farms. Additionally, the official said, Helmand residents did physical work and had a strong immune system. The director confirmed very few people in Helmand had contracted the disease but had not visited health clinics.

But Safiullah Azizi, head of the Afghanistan Development Association in Helmand, said: “Many areas are very far from the capital and people cannot easily go to health facilities. In addition, many areas are under Taliban’s control. Taking a sample there is impossible. Therefore, the number of positive Covid-19 cases in our province is very low.”

After Helmand, fewer cases have been registered in Faryab. Faryab, located in the north of Kabul, has an area of 27,822 square kilometres and a population of 1.1 million. At least 313 positive Covid-19 cases (0.03 of the total population) were registered in the province unitl December 28, 2020. Dr. Mohammad Naeem Musamam, director of public health, said he absence of a coronavirus-testing laboratory in the provnc was one of the reaosns for the fewer cases of the deadly virus.

“Samples are sent to Balkh province for testing. However, Balkh officials don’t cooperate and test results return to Faryab in 15-20 days. During this period, patiets recover…. This has eroded people’s confidence in hosptials. They have become indefferent and don’t visit hosptials.” Nazar Mohammad Rizwani, Faryab Civil Society Network secretary, held similar views. He also linked the under-reporting of positive cases to people’s doubts about Covid-19 and some calling it a political ruse.

With so many refugees returning to Faryab from Iran, there should have been more positive cases of the coronavirus in the province than in any other province, he opined. Noorullah Tarakai, deputy spokesman for MoPH, said the reason for the lower number of positive cases in these provinces was not that there were no facilities of Covid-19 testing.

He explained coronavirus-testing centres are operational in all seven zones across the country and are capable of conducting 5,000 tests a day. He said there were hospitals for the treatment of coronavirus patients in all provinces. Tarakai suggested the availability of the required materials at a testing lab might have been delayed for a day or a half, but results were not delayed inordinately.

He acknowledged the number of positive cases in these three provinces was lower than in other provinces due to a small number of their residents in foreign countries. Those who returned to these provinces from abroad have been quarantined and they follow health guidelines. The coronavirus has now spread to all provinces of Afghanistan. Residents of other parts of the country also travel to these three provinces.

Tarakai added: “Another major reason is that people in remote areas have stagmatised the disease and do not want others to know about their infection. Unfortunately, patients go to hospitals when their condition deteriorates or when need ventilators.” About the higher number of positive cases in Herat, Kabul and Nimroz, Tarakai said: “People from 34 provinces are living in Kabul, where public movement is greater. Herat has a border with Iran and the movement of people to and from Iran, especially through smuggling routes, is frequent. The first case of Covid-19 was also detected in Herat. Nimroz also shares a border with Iran and people’s movement is more frequent.” The coronavirus broke out in Iran before it reached Afghanistan. Many Afghan refugees, returned home from that country, contribute to the spread of the pandemic in Afghanistan.