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Editorial: Den of thieves or what?

The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on Afghan masses. The official tally put the total number of positive cases nationwide at more than 29,000. Of them, at least 8,841 are said to have recovered and about 598 are said to have lost their lives. This is while the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has said that the recent figures of positive cases revealed that the coronavirus’ spread in the country was slowing down. Against an average of 1,000 daily cases earlier, the past couple of days witnessed round-the-clock cases in the range of 400-500. On the other hand, the issue of embezzlement and corruption by a specific circle, most likely at MoPH, continues unabated. Such people are cashing in on the dire situation at the expense of Afghans’ lives and are exploiting the crisis while lining their own pockets – with nobody there to hold the government and such persons accountable. In a recent horrendous crime, about 32 ventilators donated to Afghanistan have been reportedly smuggled to neighboring Pakistan against the backdrop of coronavirus patients dying due to lack of oxygen in hospitals. Surprisingly, the MoPH turns a blind eye to the issue of shortage of ventilators and oxygen. But the situation on the ground and reports of healthcare watchdogs reveal otherwise. The smuggling of ventilators that are crucial for coronavirus patients as they provide artificial oxygen comes at a time when the devices are desperately needed in the country. Several people have lost the battle against the respiratory disease due to non-availability of ventilators. Meanwhile, this issue of ventilators being smuggled to Pakistan is a huge blow to the Afghan health sector. There is no big crime than stealing donated equipment, which could save lives, and selling them at a fraction of their actual price. Thanks to an anonymous businessman – who tried to buy these ventilators which cost $600,000 – for blowing the whistle on such smugglers. At this juncture, when MoPH is already under severe criticism for its mismanagement of the crisis and lack of accountability (with its expenditure reports not yet presented to the Parliament), it should come to the fore and address this issue head-on. The specific group of people who are playing with the fate of thousands of people and are committing a national treason should be detected and prosecuted. The smuggled ventilators is just a case in point; there are many other incidents of corrupt activities and embezzlement. Therefore, the ministry is well-advised to quickly spring into action with regards to investigating the smuggling of the machines and share the results with the public as soon as possible. Such actions of corruption, even at our hospitals, have cost Afghanistan to lose it’s somewhat reputation as a state and be introduced to world the as a den of thieves.

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