Underserved Afghan Women & Kids: Taliban Leaders Seek Medical Care Abroad



Afghan women face difficulties accessing basic healthcare due to the collapse of local clinics and strict gender rules under the Taliban regime, which also leads to medical staff shortages as women are banned from employment and education. The overall healthcare system is on the brink of collapse as resources are rerouted towards defense and intelligence services, despite the country experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis. The U.N. has been criticized for allowing Taliban leaders, who have been internationally sanctioned, to seek medical care abroad while the Afghan population suffers, leading to calls for the U.N. to enforce sanctions and hold the Taliban accountable.

Afghan Women and Children Struggle with Healthcare Amidst Taliban Neglect

Envision a mother whose child is so malnourished that his body can barely function due to severe cold, clean water shortages, and ongoing hunger that have weakened his immune system. Infants are prone to infections like pneumonia and acute watery diarrhea.

Access to local clinics is hindered by corruption and lack of funding. Moreover, cultural norms necessitate a male chaperone to facilitate any travel, even for healthcare.

Every day, Afghan women grapple with these challenges to access basic health services. Meanwhile, Taliban leaders, the culprits behind the healthcare system’s downfall, are freely receiving healthcare overseas, despite international sanctions imposed on them.

The UN must leverage existing international sanctions to pressure the Taliban leadership into improving conditions for Afghan women. Recently, three internationally sanctioned Taliban leaders received temporary exemptions from the UN to travel to Turkey for medical treatment.

While humanitarian reasons have allowed sanctioned individuals to travel for healthcare in the past, this privilege extended to members of the Taliban is recklessly unfair. The Taliban’s edicts have led to medical staff shortages, with women banned from employment, education, and freedom of movement. Female medical students are barred from taking exit exams, preventing access to specialty courses and necessary certifications.

As the healthcare system teeters on the brink, the Taliban prioritise defense and intelligence services, despite record levels of tax and customs revenue. This forces aid organizations to limit their assistance, leading to the closure of essential lifelines like rural clinics and nutrition centers.

With limited access to health services, Afghans, especially mothers and children, face dire consequences including malnourishment and preventable diseases. UNICEF estimates that at least 167 Afghan children die daily from treatable health issues. Furthermore, Afghanistan grapples with one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates, with an estimated one woman dying every two hours from preventable pre- and postnatal complications.

Women and children were the majority of victims in the October earthquakes that struck Herat province. Taliban restrictions compounded the tragedy by forcing women to remain home.

The UN’s decision to allow Taliban leaders access to assets and travel privileges contradicts their extremist ideologies and their negative impact on the Afghan population. The Taliban’s trafficking activities continue to flourish, as they exploit humanitarian aid distribution and natural resources.

The UN’s list of sanctioned Taliban leaders hasn’t been updated since the Taliban’s capture of Afghanistan in 2021. To promote compliance and accountability, the Security Council Sanctions Monitoring Committee should maintain a detailed record of granted exemptions. The UN and the US government should also update their respective sanctions lists to include new Taliban leaders who have risen since August 2021.

The Afghan populace deserves better than life under the Taliban’s brutal rule. The international community, although in a changed context, must play its role in holding the Taliban accountable.

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