Afghan Province, Squeezed by Taliban, Loses Access to Medical Care

Officials in Oruzgan said that a rising Taliban threat in recent weeks had left the government no choice but to shut the clinics — all of them, according to some accounts, or 46 of the 49 operating in the province, other reports said — and then on Saturday the only remaining hospital. (Later in the day, the hospital’s emergency services branch was reopened.)

“The Taliban have closed all district health clinics and sent us threats to shut down the hospital, too, so the doctors decided to close it down for their own safety,” said Khan Agha Miakhel, director of the provincial health department in Oruzgan.

Mr. Miakhel said the Taliban were demanding that the government select only health officials recommended by their insurgent movement, and that they select the locations of any new clinics. Other officials said the Taliban also wanted the government to send surgeons and medical supplies to district clinics to care for wounded insurgents.

In the face of the Taliban pressure, the provincial government seemed helpless.

“We are working closely with elders and influential people around the province to convince the Taliban not to bring health affairs into politics,” said Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the governor of Oruzgan.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, denied that the insurgents had made any threats and said that the clinics had “collapsed” because of government incompetence and corruption.

“All the clinics and the hospital in Oruzgan, they have no facilities — no medicine, no doctors, no personnel,” Mr. Mujahid said. “They just keep some guards and cleaners for salary. There is nothing medical.”

As the Afghan war continues to rage, with varying degrees of fighting in 20 of the country’s 34 provinces, health workers have found that the places where they can function are shrinking. They have repeatedly come under attack, forcing many clinics and aid groups to reduce their operations or limit their movements. This month, a physiotherapist working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was shot by a gunman in a wheelchair who had been treated for polio at the same orthopedic center in northern Afghanistan for 19 years.

In places like Oruzgan, where the government’s control has been reduced to the capital and areas just beyond it in recent years, residents are stuck between an administration that cannot protect its population and deliver services, and a violent insurgency that cannot meet even their…

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