Each year, thousands of Afghans travel to other countries for medical treatment. They’re driven to places like Pakistan, India and Turkey, spending more than 250 million US dollars each year on medical services they can’t get in Afghanistan.
Ghayor Waziri has the story.
Najiba Azizi is 40 years old. She has heart disease, and two years ago, she suffered a heart attack. She’s been trying to get medical treatment in Kabul for around a year, with no success
“I realised that it’s impossible for me to get treatment in Afghanistan,” she said. “Even though I’ve spent more than $4000 on my treatment here.”
With no other choice, Najiba now travels to Pakistan each year to receive treatment.
She’s not the only one traveling internationally for medical treatment. There are many others who do the same, some even making the journey without visas and passports.
Najiba’s son, Naweed Azizi says that his mother’s constant travel to Pakistan hasn’t been easy, especially as tensions between the neighbouring countries mount.
“we faced many problems such as abuse from Pakistani police, expensive treatment, difficulty getting visas, language barriers, and transportation problems,” Naweed said.
But the family are just grateful that Najiba has finally received the treatment she needed.
For many, traveling to another country is something they simply can’t afford, leaving them without treatment.
According to the World Bank, more than a third of Afghans have no access to healthcare.
Since the fall of the Taliban 16 years ago, Afghanistan’s health ministry has received millions of dollars in international donations.
There have been significant improvements.
But people like Najiba are still frustrated by medical standards in Afghanistan.
A lot of that money has been whittled away through corruption, lining the pockets of officials.
And instability created by fighting between the Taliban, ISIS and Afghan forces continues to thwart development.
According to Saeed Waheed Majrooh, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Health Ministry, talks are underway with India and Iran to find solutions.
Afghanistan is seeking money and expertise to improve medical infrastructure, in a move that would strengthen its relationship with India and Iran.
“We are in dialogue with India and Iran to make them ready to support us to have standard medical centers and pharmaceutical companies,” Majrooh stated.
Afghanistan hopes to develop the capacity to produce its own medicines, rather than relying on imports.
According to the Afghanistan Ministry of Health, there are now 52 government-run hospitals, and more than 360 private hospitals operating across Afghanistan.
Majrooh says the Afghan government hopes to rely on partnerships with the private sector to access technology and equipment, which is desperately lacking in public hospitals…
“Next year, we are aiming to have specialty medical treatment centers. In coordination with the private sector we want to build standard hospitals in different parts of the country,” he said.
But Private Sector Chief, Basheer Sakayee, says that Afghanistan’s private sector may not have the experience required.
“It’s difficult to provide the best quality medical services, compared with India, Pakistan or other neighboring countries,” Sakayee said. “Those countries and their governments have worked for around a century to improve medical services. Our private sector is only 16 years old. How can we compare?”
Basheer says it will take many years before Afghans will be able to get standard medical treatment in their own country.
Challenges like a lack of technology and expertise, insecurity and corruption are still being overcome.
In the meantime, those who can afford to travel and pay for treatment have a way out.
But Najiba admits it’s a difficult solution, even if you can afford it.
“We faced problems in Pakistan. But I recovered,” she continued, “in Afghanistan, you can spend a lot of money, but you will get nothing!”