Afghanistan: As Fighting Intensifies in Helmand, Fewer Patients can Reach Hospital

Kadir Van Lohuizen/Noor

As fighting moves into districts surrounding Lashkar Gah, capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, sick and injured people are struggling to reach the city’s Boost Hospital, a 300-bed facility run by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Health.

Patients report that roads are blocked and checkpoints are delaying them from reaching the hospital. After major clashes, fewer patients can reach the hospital for critical needs.

“The intensification and proximity of fighting is clearly limiting access to the hospital,” said Guilhem Molinie, MSF’s country representative in Afghanistan. “In the immediate aftermath of fighting, one in four patients are unable to reach our emergency room.”

Over the past decade, Helmand has consistently seen clashes between government and opposition forces. As violence intensifies, about 25 children are being treated in the hospital’s malnutrition ward—which is significantly lower than usual for this time of year.

“Low numbers of malnutrition patients are especially concerning,” Molinie said. “Delays in treating malnutrition can stunt early childhood development and prove fatal. It is a main cause of child mortality in Helmand. Even without conflict-related delays, children often arrive at Boost Hospital late and in critical condition.”

MSF has prepared a mass causality plan in case of a sudden influx of wounded due to the fighting, with materials stockpiled and triage protocols in place. MSF will continue treating people regardless of their political, ethnic, religious or any other affiliations.

MSF has shared the coordinates and information related to all its facilities in Lashkar Gah with all parties to the conflict as it did in Kunduz last year. MSF has a strict no-weapons policy, and all people entering MSF’s hospitals need to place their weapons in a safety locker.

MSF started working in Afghanistan in 1980. In Helmand, just as in the rest of Afghanistan, both national and international staff work together to ensure the best quality of treatment. MSF supports the Ministry of Public Health in Ahmad Shah Baba hospital in eastern Kabul, Dasht-e-Barchi maternity in western Kabul and Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province. In Khost, in the east of the country, MSF operates a maternity hospital. MSF plans to open a multi-drug resistant tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment facility in Kandahar later this year. MSF relies only on private funding for its work in Afghanistan and does not accept money from any government. 

Patients waiting for their operations. Boost hospital is run by MSF in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health. It is one of the biggest MSF runs worldwide: 300 beds, 700 national staff, 25 international staff.
Kadir Van Lohuizen/Noor