CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good morning, distinguished guests.
In February 2020, the Ministry of Public Health confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Afghanistan. Almost a year on, we know that the virus is not easily defeated. While all eyes are on vaccination as the ultimate solution, a sustained effort remains essential: to maintain awareness, to prevent, to test, to trace and to treat; and also to address the secondary effects of the pandemic: malnutrition and violence against girls and women.
Therefore, today, we mark the launch of 3 projects worth 35 million euro in support of the continued fight against COVID-19. These projects are complementary to our ongoing support to primary and secondary healthcare in Afghanistan, and directly address current health and nutrition needs. Concretely this means 17 new testing laboratories; installation of oxygen plants in 9 provincial hospitals; rehabilitation of 80 “severe acute malnutrition” centres; 300,000 children and mothers and 300,000 adolescent girls will receive community nutrition services; climate resilient water supply schemes will benefit 20,000 communities; gender-based violence prevention awareness will reach 300,000 mothers and 500 frontline workers; and more….
I am delighted that organisations of reputation, with longstanding experience and outreach in this country, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Agha Khan Foundation, Cordaid and other NGOs, will implement the projects in coordination with the Ministry of Public Health.
While we embark on a renewed effort in the fight against COVID-19, it is right to recall the immense pressure the pandemic has put on health centres, hospitals, laboratories and the Ministry itself. An overburdened healthcare system is likely to lead to increased morbidity and mortality due to all kind of conditions, potentially undoing gains made in the past years. Maternity care and childhood vaccinations already appear to be among the victims of COVID-19. It is therefore so important that we do not lose sight of regular healthcare and support the resilience of the overall healthcare system. The EU will continue supporting basic healthcare, as we have done since 2001.
Let us also remember the heroic doctors, nurses and other health care staff, too many of whom fell sick or paid with the highest price, their life, against this virus.
Unfortunately, it is not just the virus that threatens healthcare provision. With sadness, I have taken note of reports of attacks on health facilities, their forced closure, and kidnapping of staff. I call upon all sides to respect humanitarian law, to respect the sanctity of health facilities, and to keep all health workers out of harm’s way.
As I already mentioned vaccination as a way out of the pandemic, I commend the Ministry of Public Health for its readiness by developing a national COVID-19 vaccination programme. Also here, the EU will stand by the people of Afghanistan. The EU and its Member States are among the largest contributors to the COVAX facility. The EU will make up to 870 million euro available to purchase and deliver 2 billion vaccine doses to low and middle-income countries; and Afghanistan will be in the front row.
In addition to the health effects, the pandemic has been detrimental to the economy and increased poverty. The EU has therefore redirected 97 million euros in development funds to address the socio-economic impact. This concerns for example social protection programmes, support to business development and vocational training. This is complementary to the health response.
Before I close, I wish to emphasize the importance of good governance, a core value of the EU. I have full confidence in the sound management of the projects launched today. Nevertheless, public allegations of corruption against officials has challenged the trust of the public and the donor community in fight against COVID-19. I therefore urge the Ministry of Public Health to ensure complete transparency with respect to their role and activities. In these times of crisis, I also urge the government to formally appoint an acting minister without delay.
Let me end, by assuring you of our continuous support, as demonstrated today, towards the improvement of the health of the people of Afghanistan. So that all Afghans reach their full potential in health, contributing to peace, stability and a sustainable development of their country.