An Afghan father recently described how his 15-year-old son lost both feet after stepping on a mine. He couldn't get proper care in Kunduz City - the only trauma centre there had been destroyed - so he took a taxi more than 200 miles to Kabul. By the time his son received treatment, it was too late.
"Both of his legs had to be cut off from just below the waist, because the bones were ruined and he had a serious infection," the boy's father said. "For one week, he was ok, but then, from the infection, he went into a coma. Ten days later, he died in the hospital."
This is one of the many brutal stories I heard during a trip to Afghanistan, where I travelled in November to research the impact that targeted attacks on medical facilities have on children's health. Children and their parents, health workers and humanitarian staff repeatedly told my colleagues and I how these attacks have compromised access to critical healthcare and devastated children's lives. In a country already among the world's most dangerous for aid workers, clinics have become battlegrounds and medical professionals are on the front lines of the conflict.
Over the last two years, the Taliban, Afghan government forces and other groups have committed more than 240 attacks on medical facilities. These violate humanitarian laws and erode an already extremely fragile health system. In a report released today, we show how these unlawful attacks have damaged or destroyed clinics and hospitals, and killed or injured many health professionals. Others have been forced to leave their jobs or flee, and many patients have been afraid to seek care. Children have suffered greatly: casualties have increased, along with rates of malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.
Instead of places of healing, clinics and hospitals have become targets in Afghanistan's escalating conflict. Attacks have been so frequent that one health director told us that many go unreported. Attacks have taken place in at least 20 of the country's 34 provinces, making it difficult, if not impossible, to access healthcare in many areas. In one case, a 15-year-old girl suffering from meningitis took a week to reach a hospital. She died shortly after getting treatment.