Photo: WHO

Tuberculosis Remains a Significant Public Health Challenge in Afghanistan, WHO Warns

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The World Health Organization (WHO) says that Tuberculosis (TB) continues to pose a major public health challenge in Afghanistan, with approximately 80,000 cases recorded in the country last year.

On World Tuberculosis Day, observed on March 24, WHO warned in a series of social media posts that TB remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, ranking second in mortality after COVID-19.

The UN agency emphasized that TB is preventable and curable but can be fatal if not detected and treated early enough. “When you encounter a patient with TB symptoms such as coughing and blood tinged phlegm, it is crucial to promptly transfer them to a diagnostic center,” WHO said. 

According to WHO, common symptoms of TB include prolonged cough (sometimes with blood), chest pain, weakness, fatigue, and weight loss.

TB is an infectious disease usually transmitted from one person to another through the air, often through coughs and sneezes. To prevent its spread, WHO recommends that individuals cover their mouth and nose with a mask, tissue, or hand when coughing or sneezing.

WHO’s persistent warnings about the spread of infectious diseases come at a time when the country is struggling with a strained healthcare system and a shortage of skilled physicians and quality medication.

WHO and other international agencies have repeatedly warned of a crippling health system crisis in Afghanistan. According to them, this crisis poses a serious threat, potentially depriving millions of people in the country of necessary healthcare assistance and increasing the risks of infectious diseases and outbreaks. 

The crisis has been significantly exacerbated by the Taliban’s oppressive policies and practices, particularly their prohibitions on women’s education and work. These bans have also hindered the training of future female healthcare workers, consequently contributing to foreseeable shortages of health workers in the country.

Moreover, the significant decrease in financial and technical development assistance for Afghanistan’s public health system since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 has greatly harmed the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

On the other hand, the country continues to face one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises, with over two-thirds of its population in need of life-saving assistance this year.

WHO emphasizes that TB can be eradicated through collaborative efforts, increased investment in TB across both public and private sectors, adopting a multisectoral approach involving all potential partners and entities, and, most importantly, engaging with the communities affected by the disease.

Dr. Jamshed Tanoli, Acting WHO Representative in Afghanistan, emphasized, “To achieve our country’s vision of health for all by all and universal health coverage, we must end TB in Afghanistan.”