Sudden spike in coronavirus cases amid the third wave of the pandemic has been pressuring the fragile healthcare system of Afghanistan, leaving scores of patients gasping for air.
A number of friends and relatives of the ailing patients told Anadolu Agency that they have been turned away by private clinics over lack of oxygen.
"Near our village in But Khaak district of Kabul, there was no oxygen in the private clinics, and when we brought the patient to a local hospital, he passed away," Irshad Haleem, a relative of a coronavirus patient, told Anadolu Agency.
Last week, a brawl broke out in the capital Kabul's leading and dedicated health center for Covid-19 patients, when angry families of patients attacked the staff of Mohammad Ali Jinnah Hospital over oxygen shortage after their loved ones died.
It prompted the Ministry of Public Health to issue a desperate plea for support and cooperation amid a shortage of resources in the wake of surging infection and death rates.
Efforts have been expedited to take the private sector on board to combat the oxygen shortage, Health Ministry spokesman Mirwais Alizay said. He said private hospitals have also been requested to carefully consume oxygen reserves.
"As per the industry sources, private hospitals consume the most oxygen, while public sector hospitals need more oxygen cylinders," a ministry statement quoted Minister of Public Health Waheed Majrooh as telling private sector representatives on Sunday.
In February, Afghanistan began the rollout of the Indian-made Covid-19 vaccine following the World Health Organisation's emergency use approval. The country has so far received 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Afghan government has repeatedly called for more international support to vaccinate at least 20% of the estimated population of 38 million this year, and 60% by the end of 2022.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, Afghanistan expects nearly 700,000 more vaccine doses from China as the available stocks have finished after the first jabs.
“When everyone was not interested in getting vaccinated in the early days of the vaccination, I went to Jamhoriat Hospital and got vaccinated without any hassle. And now, I have been trying for days to get the vaccine for my wife and children, but I was told no vaccine is available for the new and first dose patients,” Dawood Khan, a resident of the old Macroryan neighborhood, told Anadolu Agency.
Iqbal Umer, a Kabul University student, said students and faculty members were provided with the first dose over a month ago, and since then there has been no sign of the second shot.
Vulnerable government employees sent home
All public officials across Afghanistan who are of a vulnerable age and health conditions have been sent home on a two-week leave starting on Sunday amid surging coronavirus cases in the war-ravaged country.
As per the decision by the Independent Administration Reforms and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC), all government officials aged above 55 who are suffering from serious chronic illnesses were asked to work from home for two weeks as a precautionary measure, while executive officials asked to physically remain present to sign necessary documents are directed to strictly follow safety and hygiene rules.
"The directives have been endorsed by the government leadership on the advice of the Ministry of Public Health to safeguard the vulnerable members of the community from the pandemic," said the IARCSC.
Since last week, all public and private sector educational institutions in Afghanistan have been shut as the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths have steadily increased.
The Ministry of Public Health reported 50 deaths from coronavirus on Sunday, the highest single-day spike so far. The nationwide death toll stands at 3,195. The overall case count rose to 80,615 with 1,379 new infections reported in the last 24 hours.