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FEATURE STORY May 28, 2020

In Afghanistan, Health Workers Fight Misinformation to Curb COVID-19

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Health workers of Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) explaining to an Afghan family in Surkh-Rod district of Nangarhar province, how to protect themselves from COVID-19 virus.

Photo Credit: World Bank


Story Highlights:

  • In Afghanistan, a government livelihood support program for impoverished communities has been scaled up to fight misinformation and help curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • Working with community elders, health workers disseminate public health messages and vital medical information to communities.
  • Health and social sector teams have also encouraged villagers to use latex gloves or disposable masks only once.

SURKH-ROD DISTRICT, Nangarhar Province— Residents of the Qala-e-Naw village, which sits west of Jalalabad city in eastern Afghanistan, became frantic when they first heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the havoc it could wreak on people's health.

Many turned to antibiotics to ward off the disease—despite their ineffectiveness over viruses.  

Taking a course of antibiotics was also the intended line of defense for Qamara, a mother of six, and her family—until she sought advice from health workers and changed her mind. "They told me not to take any medication without a doctor's prescription," she says.

Anecdotes and unfounded evidence about the pandemic circulate quickly among communities, skewing perceptions and resulting in noncompliance with health instructions and medical guidelines.

To raise awareness and dispel myths about the pandemic,


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Qamara's family is among over 2000 beneficiary families in Nangrahar province now haveing the basic knowledge on how to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus as the World Bank supported TUP program stepped in to rias awareness.

Photo Credit: World Bank


Najibullah, a TUP health specialist, met with the community elders of Qala-e-Naw village and explained how taking unprescribed medicine for COVID-19 could trigger adverse side effects.  Through this engagement, Najibullah and his colleagues were successful in keeping more residents from taking antibiotics.

They also described precautionary measures recommended by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health and the World Health Organization, such as social distancing and face masks. Now, mullahs and other community leaders are disseminating COVID-19 prevention messages to villagers in community gatherings and mosques, while also observing these rules.

Meanwhile, health and social sector teams have encouraged villagers to use latex gloves or disposable masks only once. The village is learning to make masks from washable fabric that can be reused.

"They advised us to use masks and gloves and wash our hands frequently with soap and water," says Qamara.  "We've learned that if anyone feels sick, they should stay home and contact a doctor if their symptoms worsen. We have also learned that COVID-19 spreads from one person to another, so we have to wear a mask and keep a distance of at least one meter from each other."

As part of the World Bank’s Afghanistan Access to Finance Project, TUP aims to improve the economic conditions of destitute families through livelihood support. It is implemented through the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA) in the Behsood, Kama, and Surkh-Rod districts in Nangarhar province by the nonprofit WADAN (Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan).

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Supported by the World Bank the TUP program is helping households in 6 provinces of Afghanistan to improve their living conditions. The program is currently covering over 7,000 households. Photo credit: World Bank


Qamara is one of over 2,000 beneficiaries of the TUP program in the province. She received a cow and calf as well as information on hygiene and animal husbandry from the program last March.

"Our lives are improving; we now sell milk to dairy shops and our neighbors, and drink some ourselves," she says. "We receive [other] health tips that help keep our children and us healthier." Her husband, Rahim Gul, sells sugar cane for a living.

—Balkh, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Laghman, and Takhar. It is now expanding in Nangarhar and Pawan provinces and aims to benefit a further 5,000 households.

Like other World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) projects, TUP has been scaled up to help limit COVID-19 outbreaks, spread life-saving messages, and help communities cope with the social and economic impacts of the virus. The World Bank was one of the first international organizations to help the country in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, it has provided $100.4 million in emergency support to the government.



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