Photo: IRC Afghanistan

ICRC to end funding for 25 hospitals in Afghanistan amid healthcare crisis

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has announced that it will end funding for 25 hospitals in Afghanistan by the end of August due to funding constraints.

The program’s end comes amid growing concerns over cuts to Afghanistan’s humanitarian aid, two years after the Taliban took over and most other forms of international assistance were halted.

“Although we continue to engage with government ministries, donors, and organizations to find alternative sustainable support mechanisms for the hospital sector, the phase-out of the Hospital Program is expected to happen tentatively at the end of August,” Diogo Alcantara, ICRC’s spokesperson for Afghanistan told Reuters on Thursday.

The ICRC began supporting the hospitals a few months after foreign forces left Afghanistan in August 2021. The organization said it took this decision to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing due to the financial crisis that Afghanistan was experiencing.

According to Reuters, the ICRC hospital program had originally covered 33 hospitals, eight of which have already been phased out, paying for the salaries of over 10,000 health workers and some medical supplies. The hospitals provided thousands of beds and served areas encompassing more than 25 million people.

“The ICRC does not have the mandate nor the resources to maintain a fully functioning public healthcare sector in the longer term,” Alcantara said.

“The financial difficulties the ICRC is facing have sped up, in transparency with IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) authorities, the expected return of the full responsibilities of the health services to the Ministry of Public Health,” Alcantara said, referring to the Taliban administration.

Pakistan is closely monitoring the development, according to Reuters. Pakistan is a major destination for healthcare for citizens of Afghanistan, and the country routinely receives thousands of medical visa applications from Afghanistan.

“We are concerned about a further influx of medical patients,” a Pakistani official told Reuters.

The Taliban have not commented on the ICRC’s decision.

Following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, healthcare is on the brink of collapse in Afghanistan due to economic crises, natural catastrophes, and a dearth of international aid that has been significantly affected by widespread Taliban bans on women and girls.

Humanitarian organizations estimate that $2.26 billion is needed until December 2023 to provide essential multi-sectoral assistance to 20 million people in Afghanistan.