Many hospital medics forced to flee embattled Afghan city, jeopardising care – officials

Afghan security forces keep watch in front of their armoured vehicle in Kunduz city, Afghanistan October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Nasir Wakif

Fighting in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz has forced many hospital staff to leave for safety, officials said on Thursday, further jeopardising medical care for hundreds of people.

Street-to-street gun battles have continued for four days after Taliban militants slipped past the city’s defences on Monday.

Government troops, backed by U.S. special forces and air strikes, have repeatedly declared that they are in control of the city, but residents report that heavy fighting has forced many people to flee.

Among those fleeing Kunduz are about 70 percent of the staff at the city’s main public hospital, which was struck by several rockets and small arms fire, said Marzia Yaftali Salaam, a doctor.

The 200-bed public hospital is the main provider of medical care in Kunduz after a more advanced trauma centre run by Medecins Sans Frontiers was destroyed by an American air strike last year.

In the past three days, the hospital has been inundated by at least 210 patients, many of them civilians, including women and children, injured in the fighting, Salaam said.

“Many of the wounded had to be carried to clinics in surrounding districts and private clinics in the city,” she said. “If the situation remains the same, we may be forced to halt our services.”

During a lull in the fighting on Wednesday, nearly 50 casualties were rushed to the hospital in the span of a few hours, said Hameed Alam, head of the public health department in Kunduz.

Thousands of residents have fled the city, with those who remain facing serious water, food and electricity shortages, as well as threats from the fighting.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001, are seeking to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule.

“There is fighting in every street and the situation is critical,” said Ismail Kawasi, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry in Kabul.

Additional medical supplies and personnel were positioned in neighbouring provinces, but they must wait for the fighting to subside before they can be flown to Kunduz, he said.

(Reporting by Sardar Razmal; Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)