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Many of these children could be treated – but doctors are struggling to keep them alive

His long black hair was flowing under a traditional cap and he was wearing a mask to hide his face. A Taliban guard approached me, machine gun in his hand, and told me I should follow him.

It was then that I realized we would have his company throughout our stay.

It was a strange development, an extraordinary experience, but it was dwarfed by the amazing things we saw in the middle of Afghanistan , the largest and most respected children’s hospital in Kabul.

Muhammad Iqbal, head of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital’s doctors, said that there were many wards and led me up a flight of stairs.

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“The first wards in intensive care and critical care are the ones I’m following.”

Image Muhammad Iqbal said to Sky News, ‘We have many wings that I need you to see.’

As we entered the corridors leading into the wards, groups a women – mothers – immediately covered our faces and moved aside, or looked for somewhere to stand.

I could hear the children crying from the corridor. As I looked through the windows of the wards I was shocked at the sheer number of patients being treated.

The ward was full to the brim. Two or three children could share a baby cot.

Nurses and doctors rushed around the room, trying to comfort the crying babies and checking their vital signs.

In 20 years of reporting from Afghanistan I have seen so many poor facilities that I thought I wouldn’t be surprised. Basic medical care is the norm in the country’s provinces for decades.

It wasn’t about the conditions the children were kept in. It wasn’t even the sheer number of children being treated.

Worse, doctors kept claiming that children with serious illnesses cannot be kept alive due to insufficient medicine, supplies and equipment.

Afghanistan is currently in the middle of a severe medical crisis. This is due to a country in freefall, the freezing and drying up of assets and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that has flowed here for the past two decades. The Taliban has taken over.

This is evident in the Indira Gandhi hospital.

This hospital can accommodate 300 patients and treats over 500 patients.

Last winter, the hospital was close to being closed. However, the International Committee of the Red Cross gave much-needed immediate assistance. But it isn’t enough.

Every ward in the hospital is jam-packed with children and infants who are very sick.

Dr Muhammad Iqbal said that eighty percent of middle-class families used private hospitals to get treatment. Now they come here because they don’t have the money to travel anywhere else.

“There is a need for good drugs that you can’t buy outside of a hospital. This is the problem. Our people are very poor.

“There is a need to ventilators. We don’t have ventilators or CPAP machines. This is a very big need for an ICU.”

Image Dr Salahuddin and the three children, Mehrama, Baheer and Sahar

Three children, Mehrama, Baheer and Sahar, share one cot. All three children have cerebral palsy and other medical complications.

Their doctor pointed out each of their nearly lifeless bodies and said, “This one’s CP”, “This one’s CP”, “This one’s CP”, “This one” is CP.

“It’s serious”, Dr Salahuddin adds.

They have a low chance of survival. There is no treatment available for cerebral palsy in Afghanistan.

Image Muslimah (16), and her brother Mansoor Ahmed

Aziz Ullah struggles with his 16-year old daughter Muslimah to get her out of her wheelchair so that he can place her next her brother, who is only one years old.

Before they arrived in Afghanistan, they sought help in Kandahar and Zabul provinces.

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Both of the children have a genetic renal disease.

Aziz says, “I’m worried about her,” and speaks softly to me.

“The doctors informed me that she had recently been diagnosed with the disease, and this is my fourth child.

Muslimah and Mansoor Ahmad, his two children, are already dead.

Dr Sharif Ahmed Azizi stated that the chance of survival is very low. He also said that there are 80 percent chances of death.

“We cannot do anything, no, we don’t have the facilities to treat these patients.

“We don’t have the resources to treat the poor patients because we have more patients than we have from the other side.” The patient load is too high. Patients come from all sides of Afghanistan, and facilities are too poor.

I asked him what it was like to go to work each day knowing that there is very little they can do to help children like Muslimah.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way to help these patients or these types of patients… There is no other way.”

Many of the children in care have serious illnesses that can be treated.

Amina, 12, is looking out from her hospital bed at the distance with her mother next to her. She has cerebral meningitis.

They are trying to save her life. This is not because they lack the skills, but because they lack the resources.

The hospital was spotless. We could see that all the hospital staff, doctors and nurses were dedicated.

It is without the most basic resources, and it is on its knees.

I was separated from Dr Iqbal at one point. I then went to check if he was there. I asked one member of staff if the senior physician was present. After a while, he asked me to follow him into another office.

Two black-turbaned, long-bearded men with hardcore Taliban tendencies were seated inside, talking and chatting.

I apologized for my intrusion and stated that I was looking for the senior physician and was ready to leave.

One of the men stated in perfect English, “I’m a doctor, but in reality I’m a specialist surgeon and I’m in charge here.”

“You are always welcome”

I reminded my self to never make assumptions about Afghanistan.

Image Dr Muhammad Haseeb Wardak serves as the hospital’s president

The hospital’s president is Dr Muhammad Haseeb Wardak.

He agreed to a brief interview. I asked him if international money was needed to assist the hospital’s problems.

He said that he was calling for the international community’s support and to continue their support.

“They (the United States of America) should unfreeze all our money. This is our hope, and our demand.”

He said, “This hospital has been around for 50 years. We want more facilities, and more staff and equipment so that we can treat patients from all over Afghanistan.”

The impasse between Taliban and international community over human right, especially women’s, remains a major sticking point. It’s the source of many of the country’s problems.

We were walking through the hospital when a woman approached us. Fatima, seven months old, asked for help in buying baby formula.

She was wearing a traditional Afghan burqa in blue.

This is unusual in Afghanistan today – a woman would not engage in direct conversation with a man in public, especially if he’s accompanied by an armed Taliban guard.

This is a sign of how desperate she really is.

In Afghanistan, malnutrition is rampant. The hospital had to expand its malnutrition unit to accommodate more young patients.

Image Safiya has a severely underweight

The worst-affected people come from all parts of the country, if they are able to make it.

Safiya, seven years old, has just arrived in Kabul with her family. They have traveled from Paktia Province about six hours from Kabul.

Safiya has a severely low weight. She is severely underweight and struggles to get up from the hospital bed.

The family now has hope for the first week in weeks. After just one day, her condition has improved.

Her mother said to me, “I am hopeful.” “She is already so much more than she was before we arrived.”

For many parents, however, it is a time of despair.

Two-year-old Shereen Khan, a tiny girl of two years old, lies on his back with his mother crying. His back appears to have been swollen, with tubes attached to his nose.

Gulbashra, his mother, is extremely poor. She is a cleaner from Helmand Province.

She cries as she describes how her son, her only child became ill four months back. However, she had to leave him home to go to work.

Shereen Khan’s condition has deteriorated and she is keeping an eye on him to ensure he recovers.

Gulbashra, like many Afghans, doesn’t care about who is to blame. She just wants her son’s life to continue.

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