KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan faces "catastrophe" as growing COVID-19 cases stretch a health infrastructure already severely weakened by decades of war, the Afghan Red Crescent Society said on Tuesday.
Some 34,740 coronavirus cases and 1,062 deaths from the respiratory pandemic have been officially reported in Afghanistan, according to government figures.
"Afghanistan is on the edge of potential health, social and economic catastrophes caused by COVID-19 as the disease places a crippling burden on one of the 10 most fragile states in the world," the Red Crescent Society said in a statement.
"The real toll of the pandemic on the Afghan population is expected to be much higher and remains under-reported due to limited testing and weak health systems," it added.
Red Crescent Secretary General Nilab Mobarez said acute protective equipment shortages and difficulties in accessing remote regions were hampering its COVID-19 response. But it was expanding mobile health teams and adding thousands of community volunteers to try and detect and prevent the disease, which it said it expected to spread over coming weeks.
Afghanistan's health department said it was concerned that less than a third of those confirmed to have the disease were women, which officials believed was due to a lack of female access to healthcare in a deeply conservative society.
"The Ministry of Health is concerned about women's access to health services, especially now that we are at the height of the corona crisis...What we have done is to hire more female staff, and we have separated (out) wards for women in hospitals," health ministry deputy spokeswoman Masouma Jafari said.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Mark Heinrich)