Fatima lay in bed at the internal medicine ward at the bustling Mirwais Hospital in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar – a black scarf draped over her head and body hiding the drip going into her arm. 

Early that morning, Fatima had ingested rat poison in an attempt to end her life. 

“She drank some water with the rat killer,” said Amina*, her mother-in-law, seated at the bedside holding Fatima’s hand. “She suddenly fell down and we were all crying. I begged her, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Doctors say this scene has become all too common – especially during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We have so many poisoning patients,” said Doctor Nasima Hakimi, head of the hospital’s Family Protection Centre, which helps women facing violence.

COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on Afghanistan’s economy, driving mass job losses, shrinking household incomes, and sending food prices skyrocketing. Experts say the knock-on effects of the pandemic are increasing gender-based violence – and pushing more women like Fatima to attempt suicide.

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