It is difficult to know the true extent of the outbreak in Afghanistan, which has documented more than 36,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,300 deaths, but has conducted only 87,000 tests across the country. An overwhelmed health system, public fear of crowded hospitals, and dependence on traditional treatments are likely hiding the real cost.
Thousands of people who got sick and then recovered never knew if they had contracted the virus. Many described experiencing headaches and fevers, sometimes with other signs associated with the coronavirus, such as loss of sense of smell. But without being tested, they couldn’t be sure.
“Our entire family became ill with headaches and fever, including the children, but we all got over it,” said Mir Ahmad, a lawyer in his 40s whose family was not tested for the virus. “We were in the house together for over a month. We made juice with lemons and oranges. I had five cups of tea a day. We stayed away from sweets and fatty food, as recommended by the doctors. Now we are all well. “
Zamin Modabber, an employee of a technology company, felt ill after going to a big dinner in June. Other guests also became ill, and the one who ventured to a clinic to be tested had a positive result. Modabber, 30, said he refused to seek treatment at the hospital despite suffering from “excruciating pain” because he feared it would make him sicker.
“The environment at the corona hospital is worse than the virus itself,” he said, because it “weakens morale” and runs the risk of contamination. Worried that he might infect his sick in-laws, he said, he camped in his office for weeks, preparing vegetable dinners and drinking “lots of honey, lemon tea, and ginger.” He said he has fully recovered.
The World Health Organization said Sunday that limited health resources and tests, plus the lack of a national death registry, have made confirmed cases and deaths in Afghanistan “likely not to be reported.” She suggested that “the peak has not yet passed and the cases may still accelerate.”
Afghan health officials have said that the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus can be considerably higher in rural areas, where both tests and hospital facilities are lacking and public access to information is limited. Some villagers, they said, still do not know that the coronavirus exists.
However, in urban areas, health officials said people had responded well to an early and consistent campaign on radio and television, and advised them to stay home if they felt sick, eat only nutritious food, and seek treatment. doctor if they had difficulty breathing or developed. Other serious symptoms.
Religious leaders endorsed the messages and announced that people should not huddle in mosques and pray at home if they are sick. To reduce the stigma of the disease, the National Council of Islamic Clerics declared that anyone who died from it would be considered a “shaheed” or martyr to Islam.
“People have followed the advice of the medical authorities. No one has challenged him, “Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani said Monday. In Kabul and other urban centers, he said, the situation is close to reaching minimum standards for collective immunity, but some rural pockets” are still at risk. ” But herd immunity requires that people who have recovered from the coronavirus be immune to future infections, and it is unknown whether coronavirus survivors develop lasting immunity, according to medical experts.
However, even urban dwellers have been tempted by promises of a miracle cure. In June, thousands went to a herbal medicine dispenser in Kabul called Hakim Alokozai, who offered a healing potion. After officials discovered it contained a dangerous mix of narcotics, they closed their clinic amid angry street protests.
However, by this week, the capital had returned to normal. The trade shutdown and traffic ban had been lifted, the virus appeared to be in recession and the spirit of the four-day Eid al-Adha Muslim festival was due to start on Friday. In an informal survey of people in Kabul, more than a dozen said that they or their loved ones had survived a flu-like illness they assumed to be the coronavirus.
When asked how they had recovered, most said they had followed the advice of doctors on television or, in some cases, in their own families. Mohammad Elyas Rahmani, 23, an engineering student, said almost everyone in his family contracted the virus. An uncle, a doctor who lives in Germany, called daily with advice, recommending fresh juice and beef broth.
“He told us what to do, step by step,” said Rahmani, who is now recovered. He said he suffered from a severe headache but never had the test done or went to a hospital. His uncle said that going to a crowded and poorly equipped facility “could weaken the body’s immune system” and should only be a last resort.
There was only one downside to the vitamin-rich, low-fat regimen prescribed by experts: It cost much more than the typical Afghan meal of rice, meat and bread. Oranges are imported from Pakistan, lemons from Iran, and kiwis from Tajikistan. Before the virus hit, lemons cost less than 50 cents a pound; by June the price had increased tenfold.
“I have never sold so many oranges before. People couldn’t afford it, but they had no choice, “said Esmatullah, 30, a product vendor in Kabul who uses a name. He said he wore a mask and gloves at his stall every day, and then brought the leftovers fruit home at night.
“Thank God no one in my family got too sick,” he said. His only regret was also welcome proof that the virus has declined: the price of lemons has returned to 50 cents a pound.