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I began to feel sick in mid-April — I had a fever and couldn’t stop shaking. I took a COVID-19 test and it came back positive. Soon, my mother, father, and 1-year-old son were sick, as well. I informed colleagues at TOLOnews TV, where I work in Kabul, Afghanistan. Before long, 70 people at the network tested positive, too.
My illness lasted about two weeks — but it was particularly bad for four or five days. I felt pain throughout my body, lost my sense of smell and taste, and lost my appetite; fortunately, though, I never experienced breathing difficulties. I was wracked with anxiety throughout, worried about what would happen to my family. Fortunately, all of us survived and have recovered. And in something of a miracle, the doctor treating my family never got sick at all. Neither did a friend who kept coming by to visit.
When the first reports of the coronavirus’ spread in Iran came through, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would arrive in Afghanistan. Thousands of people travel each day between the two countries and, sure enough, our first outbreak occurred in Herat, the part of Afghanistan that borders Iran. Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, and our public health infrastructure is sparse. Our testing capacity was limited to around 2,000 per day — this in a country with a population of some 30 million.
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Compiling accurate statistics in a country like Afghanistan is notoriously difficult — even our national population is just an estimate. So when the government reports that we’ve had a relatively modest number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities, these numbers are simply not true. In fact, I believe that many millions may have ultimately been infected. And you can assume that a proportional number of people have died. I suspect that it’s possible that we have already reached herd immunity.
The government made some effort to promote social distancing, and President Ashraf Ghani walked around with a mask. But enforcing any sort of a lockdown in Afghanistan was virtually impossible. Much of the population works outdoors, as day laborers, and if they do not work, they do not get paid — there is no way for them to make a living indoors and away from their families. People began to develop a fatalistic attitude about the virus. After all, it is far from the only thing that can kill you in Afghanistan, when you consider the war and other threats to our health. Even in Kabul, people have continued to embrace each other when they meet. I’ve personally tried to avoid handshakes, but haven’t always been successful.
The damage to our national economy, which was already weak, has been substantial. Revenue is down for our company and for many others, as well. But we are happy to be alive.