The Comprehensive Health Centre Islam Qala, renovated and expanded by PATRIP’s partner World Vision in 2018, has become an asset in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak at the Iran-Afghanistan border.
In 2017-2018, our partner World Vision significantly enhanced the capacity of the Comprehensive Health Centre Islam Qala at the Iran-Afghanistan border. The small town Islam Qala links Herat City in Afghanistan to Mashhad in Iran, making it a focal point for Afghan returnees and deportees from Iran. The PATRIP-supported project, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, particularly focused on improving the situation of the returnees, many of which are in urgent need of medical attention due to their arduous journey and general lack of access to services. World Vision expanded the Health Centre by adding – among other things – emergency and delivery rooms, a laboratory, facilities for staff and modernised waiting areas, thereby equipping the facility to efficiently tend to more patients. At that time, nobody could have anticipated the challenges that the COVID-19 outbreak would pose two years later.
The outbreak of the new Coronavirus significantly affects the movement between countries, making returnees and migrants in Afghanistan even more vulnerable. Given that an average of 9,600 people crosses the border between Iran to Afghanistan on a daily basis, the risk of transmitting the disease from COVID-19 hotspot Iran into Afghanistan remains high. So far, a majority of COVID-19 cases have been reported in Herat province. Now more than ever, the most vulnerable parts of the population require assistance and information about how to protect themselves and others from the viral disease.
We are therefore very happy to observe how the Health Centre is currently being used by Afghan authorities as one of the main health facilities to inform the population passing through the facility about the risks of COVID-19 and appropriate hygenic behaviour, while also screening and referring suspected cases to the COVID-19 Isolation hospital in nearby Herat. The World Vision team visited the Health Centre Islam Qala in April 2020 and spoke to its staff and management, in order to find out in what way the upgrade of 2018 is being used in the present health crisis.
Dr Asif Kabir, deputy director of the Herat Department of Public Health (DoPH), which is in charge of the facility, pointed out that the trainings the Health Centre staff received in the context of World Vision’s project have proven helpful. “They have been effective in identifying the positive and suspicious COVID-19 cases in the area”, he told World Vision. During the project in 2018, 17 members of the Health Centre’s staff, including nurses, midwifes, community mobilisers and vaccinators, received training in – among other things – the prevention of communicable diseases. Footage provided from the visit shows the medical staff wearing full protective gear, operating with temperature screening devices, and enforcing the necessary distance between returnees in the facility’s waiting hall. “If this centre and its staff were in the previous state before the reconstruction, we would not have been able to do that”, Shakial Hossaini, who is a health worker at the Centre, told the team. “We didn’t have a suitable place for these activities.”
The PATRIP Foundation remains committed to improve the access to vital services and facilities for vulnerable communities living in remote areas by collaborating with NGO partners as well as local state authorities.