A 100-bed hospital known for its large maternity ward in one of Kabul’s poorest neighborhoods suffered a brutal attack on Tuesday. Gunmen left at least 15 people dead, including two newborns, mothers, medical workers, and one police officer.
Gunfire and explosions lasted for hours at the Doctors Without Borders operated Dasht-e-Barchi hospital. Afghan special forces were able to rescue 100 people including babies, women, children, and three foreign nationals; 15 people were wounded. Many of the 18 newborns who survived are now motherless.
The Ministry of Interior reported all of the attackers dead.
"This latest attack is deeply shocking and represents an outright violation of international humanitarian law," Juan-Pedro Schaerer, the head of delegation in Afghanistan for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said in a statement released to Global Citizen.
During the time of the attack, mothers were without their husbands due to restrictions at the hospital to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Gul Makai, a 35-year-old housewife, said she and two other mothers had to make the tough decision of whether or not they should try and escape with their newborns or leave them behind, according to the New York Times.
Suraya Ibrahimi, a 31-year-old who was a sergeant at the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense for several years, had just given birth to her fifth child before she died.
This May we've been honoring mothers, midwives, and nurses.— Doctors w/o Borders (@MSF_USA) May 13, 2020
And now comes this unbearably awful attack.
It's sickening. And it should go without saying - moms, babies, health workers, and hospitals are #NotATarget.
Staff scrambled to identify the mothers of the babies after the attack. Women also appeared at the hospital trying to adopt newborn babies who might be motherless.
"Sadly, Afghanistan has suffered many attacks targeting patients, medical workers, and health facilities," Schaerer said.
Dasht-e-Barchi hospital is located in a predominately Shiite Muslim area that has been targeted by ISIS in the past, according to CBS News.
The Taliban signed a peace deal with the United States in February intended to stop a two-decade war, but progress is moving slowly and violence has continued. The Taliban has denied responsibility for the attack.
Decades of conflict have already weakened Afghanistan’s health systems and COVID-19 will only continue to limit access to essential maternal and reproductive health care. The country has one of the highest childhood and maternal mortality rates in the world. In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that 1.9 million Afghans needed emergency health care due to armed conflict, natural disasters, and a lack of basic services.
"In a time when the already stretched health system in Afghanistan is battling the COVID-19 outbreak, this appalling attack not only has killed people seeking and providing health care, but it will also deprive the community of life-saving services in the future," Schaerer said.
Doctors Without Borders has suspended medical activities in the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital maternity ward, but is working to follow up on the newborns to ensure they receive the care they need.