Hit Hard by Coronavirus, Afghanistan’s New Generation is Innovating and Activating

Featured Health Tech

By Shrey Fadia, Analyst and Consultant, Artin Arts

A survey backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 31.5% of Afghanistan’s population has already contracted the COVID-19 virus. However, the government seems to be tackling the challenge with a positive mindset and setting up programs for COVID-19, while bringing in young people to help, through civic associations and universities.

This global pandemic has added to existing economic pressures and disturbing high levels of food insecurity. However, despite these additional challenges, organizations in Afghanistan are collaborating to overcome major challenges by introducing key programs.

Before the COVID-19 hit the country, an event was held at Darlaman Palace by Track Three Social Movement ( TTSM ) in Kabul, where national officials and local communities participated to bring awareness about the dangers of the coronavirus. Well-known public figures gave speeches on how COVID-19 is hitting the world and Afghanistan, and proposed ideas to tackle this situation, including tightened protocols associated with border security. Also, Mr. Najeeb Wardak had a speech for the border police discussing how COVID-19 is a global enemy and it’s time to come together and fight for the safety of people including military forces and those coming to Afghanistan from Iran, China and other countries. TTSM also distributed flowers, hand sanitizer and, masks. The event was wrapped up by the deputy director of border police appreciating the TTSM team for visiting them.

The event also encouraged the support of home gardening, which, during this challenging time can ensure families have food and an additional source of income if they choose to sell the crops they grow. World Vision Afghanistan, a project funded by the USAID Food for Peace, currently is supporting around 400 households led by women, helping them establish kitchen gardens, training them in farming and water conservation techniques, while also educating about the importance of hygiene during COVID-19. World Vision programs are distributing hand sanitizers and masks to encourage people to help protect their families.

The government is encouraging self-sustainability and women empowerment among the people of Afghanistan by promoting exciting new youth organizations, like the Track Three Social Movement. This civic organization’s mission is to empower women, young people, and generations to come to understand and solve challenges, and to contribute to an environment of safety, equality, and respect.

Lead by Najeeb Wardak, who, for the last ten years after graduating from college, has been working with members of the Afghan Parliament, international humanitarian organizations, non-profit foundations, and even the US Department of Defense, on programs that improve the lives of tens of thousands of people.

With over 5,000 members, TTSM programs are affiliated with government agencies. Approximately 40 post-graduate students work across the Committee of Ministers in the House of Representatives following their Bachelor’s programs. They support those women who are willing to pursue their education and advocate legal problems for them in Kabul and five other provinces.

TTSM has been rolling out COVID-19 programs, kicking off a major initiative in five provinces, with an event at Darlaman Palace.

A special committee has started reporting daily COVID-19 updates through the mainstream and social media, putting out the statements by Afghan cabinet ministers, political leaders, and parliament members. In addition, their members are distributing information, masks, and hand sanitizers in the communities they serve.

“We are full of gratitude for the support we have been receiving for our COVID-19 initiatives,” Wardak said. “One of the benefits of having civic organizations like Track Three in place is the ability to organize projects on the ground, in the neighborhoods, homes, and businesses in our country, while also helping communicate important information nationally through the media and social media. We are so proud of what all our members have been doing during this uncertain time, and are inspired to work even harder to help others.”

On the technology front, the Afghan Girls Robotics Team is fighting pandemic by designing cheap and affordable ventilators using Toyota parts. The team of five girls, led by the program founder Roya Mahboob, and have been making an immense impact on their community.

Roya founded the program in the Afghani city of Herat and selected young bright girls, aged 14 or 15, and established a non-profit organization to spread digital literacy across the country. She has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. All the participant girls in the program are called Afghan Dreamers. Roya has formed many such teams and has been working on many projects including building drones and robots for the mining sector.

The Afghan dreamers’ team of five girls is currently working on two prototypes for designing ventilators in order to support Herat. One of them is a gear-based system which is based on a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. This prototype uses plastic pouches or Ambu bags that are available in abundance in hospitals. Squeezing Ambu bags would pump air into the patient’s lungs and it costs around $200 USD.

The other prototype uses inexpensive Toyota motor parts. The average cost is approximately $300 USD.

Ms. Mahboob says, “The idea of these machines is that we use them for emergency cases when there are no professional ventilators. The thing in Afghanistan is, we don’t have enough ventilators, but that’s the case for many other countries, even Italy or New York.”

She further added, “There are other focuses for government money to be spent, but in order to compete and prosper in the 21st century, all countries must be able to access the highest technology that’s transforming our world. “If these girls have access to the opportunity or the tools, their lives can be changed. But not only their lives, they can change their community, too.”

Every country is being hit hard by COVID-19. Afghanistan currently is focusing on skills development, improving the health sector, encouraging people to bring innovative ideas, supporting small and local businesses, encouraging people to be self-sustainable, and bringing awareness among people with a positive mindset to take on the pandemic. The Afghan people, and these inspiring leaders and their programs, are more examples of the determination and commitment the Afghan people have called upon to recover from over four decades of conflict. It is important for us all to support them in these efforts.

About the author:  Shrey Fadia is an engineer, analyst, consultant and writer covering the most disruptive fields in technology today including AI, IoT, Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Communications Platforms as a Service and more, with a special interest in innovations that improve lives. While working towards his Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, NY, Fadia has published numerous articles on advances in software-based solutions in several industry publications. 

While working towards his undergraduate degree in engineering in India, Fadia and a team of other students developed a Smart Wheelchair leveraging sensors and affordable features including retrofitting existing equipment to make mobility possible using gesture mechanisms and obstacle avoidance. Their innovation was featured at an IoT Evolution World Expo in 2017. Fadia is currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant at State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, NY while consulting for companies as a Senior Analyst for strategic tech communications firm Artin Arts, based in NYC.