Afghanistan’s Health Care System Is Collapsing Under Stress

Amena, 7 months old, lay silently in her hospital crib amid the mewling of desperately ill infants in the malnutrition ward.

Her mother, Balqisa, had brought the child to Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the night before. “Her body was so hot,” she said, stroking her daughter’s emaciated leg.

The baby had a high fever, convulsions and sepsis, said Dr. Mohammad Iqbal Sadiq, a pediatrician, glancing at her chart.

“Her chances are not good,” the doctor said. “We got her too late.”

At the Indira Gandhi hospital, and in faltering hospitals across Afghanistan, famished children arrive by car and taxi and ambulance every day and night. Acute malnutrition is just one of a cascade of maladies that threaten to topple the country’s fragile health system.

Late last month, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, told the Security Council that Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread,” as he called for countries to suspend all sanctions that restricted the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country.

“For 20 years, we kept Afghanistan on a transfusion,” said Filipe Ribeiro, country representative for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Kabul. “Overnight, we removed the drip. Now we have to find a way to put it back.”