Fareed Ullah has been to Pakistan ten times for treatment for his three-year-old son Taha, who suffers from thalassaemia major, a hereditary blood condition. He had never had an issue before the Taliban took control in August, but when he went to pass the Torkham border late last month, the Taliban refused to let him in.
Doctors and patients’ families claim that since the Taliban took control, border customs have changed, making it more difficult for Afghan patients to seek life-saving treatment in Pakistan. “There is still no system,” Ijaz Ali Khan, the founder and chairman of Hamza Foundation, a Peshawar-based charity that treats thalassemia and other blood diseases, said.
Afghanistan’s healthcare system has been severely harmed, already suffering from a lack of specialized physicians and well-equipped facilities. International donor funding restrictions have resulted in a shortage of medical supplies and equipment. Some physicians departed during the Taliban’s early tenure, while others were fired from hospitals that couldn’t afford to pay them. Late last month, the director of the World Health Organization stated Afghanistan’s health system was on the verge of collapse.
Patients from Afghanistan used to cross into Pakistan for treatment before the Taliban seized power. Peshawar, a city just over 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Torkham gate, has already seen a significant number of Afghan patients in charity hospitals established up in part to treat those injured in border combat. People with thalassemia and haemophilia frequently seek treatment in Pakistan due to a lack of blood supply and a restricted number of treatment centers in Afghanistan.
According to Khan, getting these patients into Pakistan has never been a problem. The Hamza Foundation would send a letter to the patient informing them that they were traveling to Pakistan for treatment. Border authorities on both sides would let them through with ease because the foundation is a well-known institution in the region.
“They’d let all the patients in.” But now they won’t let us,” said Hamza Foundation’s medical director, Dr. Tariq Khan.
Abdul Latif Hashmi was stopped and questioned by Taliban militants as he attempted to pass the Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing with his 50-year-old mother. They did not believe he was transporting her to a hospital in Pakistan. He stated of the Taliban, “They would strike us on the border.” “They stated we were traveling overseas for medical treatment, not for vacation.”
Hashmi claimed there was a dearth of specialized physicians who could treat his mother in the area where he lives in Herat, western Afghanistan, which is why he chose to transport her to Pakistan for cancer treatment in a hospital in Karachi. He had been crossing from Chaman-Spin Boldak with his mother every two to three months without incident since November. This time, Hashmi and his mother waited six days at the border before paying a smuggler to assist them in crossing.
Pakistan is theoretically allowing medical patients from Afghanistan to enter the nation, but the government has tightened border regulations since the Taliban took power, making travel considerably more difficult. Only Afghans with proper travel documents are permitted to enter Torkham. Chaman, which typically enables Afghans to pass through specific regions near the border, has begun to tighten visa requirements. Over the last two months, both crossings have been closed on a regular basis.
Another effect of the Taliban control in Torkham is a delay in families receiving the corpses of loved ones who died overseas. A private ambulance driver claimed he used to be allowed to transport bodies immediately across the border, but now has to wait for Taliban permission to transfer the body to a waiting truck on the other side.
Fareed estimated that 150 people with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and thalassemia were waiting at the border region where he remained on the Afghan side. A pregnant lady whose baby later tested positive for thalassaemia was among the Hamza Foundation patients who were initially barred from entering Pakistan.
Fareed was ultimately able to cross the border with the assistance of a Pakistani doctor who helped him. Most thalassaemia major patients, according to Hamza Foundation doctors, require blood transfusions every 20-30 days. Since he was eight months old, Taha has had blood transfusions.
Fareed must decide whether to stay in Pakistan for the next few weeks between checkups or risk returning to Afghanistan for his son’s treatments after his lengthy travel.
The Hamza Foundation has requested assistance from both the Taliban and the Pakistani government for additional patients in this circumstance. “As humans, we’re just appealing.” You should let them on humanitarian grounds,” Khan, the foundation’s founder, urged. “They will perish if we do not give them with blood for a month.” Their survival is entirely reliant on blood. They resemble fish. What would happen if you remove the fish from the water?”