Elections could hit health services - ministry

The Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has added its voice to concerns aired by aid agencies about the use of health centres around the country as voting stations in the 20 August election.

“Out of the total 1,750 health centres in the county, 182 will be used as voting stations, based on the president’s decree,” Farid Raaid, MoPH’s spokesman, told IRIN in Kabul on 12 August.

The designated centres include hospitals, clinics and other health facilities in different parts of the country, he said.

“I cannot talk about the security of these 182 centres, but we are concerned about the possible impact on the work of these centres,” said Raaid, adding that medical personnel would try to maintain a business-as-usual approach on the polling day.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among others, has already raised concerns about the move. “If you have a strong presence of security forces - be they national or international - they do represent a legitimate target,” Reto Stocker, head of ICRC’s delegation in Kabul, told IRIN in April.

Health workers and facilities have often been threatened and attacked by insurgents and criminal groups, resulting in the closure of clinics in some parts of the country.

President Hamid Karzai is running for another five-year term in the presidential and provincial elections, which are backed and co-managed by the UN and bankrolled by international donors.

Afghan and international forces have vowed they will ensure security and protect thousands of voting sites from Taliban insurgents, who have repeatedly warned they will disrupt the process.

Aid agencies and rights watchdogs have also expressed concern about the use of schools in the elections after the Independent Elections Commission and the Ministry of Education agreed to use thousands of schools as voting stations.

The government has repudiated concerns about the use of health and education facilities in the elections, saying “it is a national process”.