WHO chief and Taliban hold talks in Geneva on Afghanistan’s health needs

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, addresses the high-level ministerial meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan held in Geneva. (Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin)

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), held talks with the Taliban’s health leader in Geneva on Tuesday on Afghanistan’s “dire” health situation.

Tedros said in a tweet on Wednesday that he had met with Qalandar Ebad to discuss “the health needs in the country”.

A delegation of the Taliban arrived in Geneva on Sunday to meet with NGOs and institutions in an effort to unblock access to humanitarian aid, as first reported by Geneva Solutions. The visit was organised by Geneva Call, a humanitarian organisation that engages with non-state armed groups on the protection of civilians.

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The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) are among the other actors that were reportedly set to sit down this week with the Afghan rulers, which are on a quest for international recognition.

Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, Afghanistan has plunged into a humanitarian crisis, with millions in need of assistance according to several humanitarian agencies. Its health system, which was already under pressure from the Covid pandemic, has nearly collapsed. Left without funding, health workers are going without pay and health programmes have been forced to stop.

Tedros, who had met with Ebad during a visit to Kabul in September 2021, warned in his tweet that “despite some improvements since then, the health situation is still dire and the acute humanitarian crisis is continuing to put lives at risk”.

“The acute need in Afghanistan is to deliver diagnostics to detect the Covid-19 virus, and in particular Omicron, as the number of cases is on the rise,” he said.

The WHO chief also said that the meeting touched upon the issue of girls’ education, a stingy topic for the headline islamist group, which has cracked down on the rights of women and girls despite promising not to. According to UN reports, women have been ordered to stay home and girls have been barred from going to school in some places.