Reaching Mothers in Rural Afghanistan with Lifesaving Care

Afghanistan suffers from one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with approximately 1,600 out of every 100,000 Afghan mothers dying while giving birth or because of related complications, according to UNICEF.  Many of these deaths could be prevented by having a skilled birth attendant or midwife present.  But for large portions of the population living in rural areas, access to appropriate and affordable medical care is often nonexistent.

In the eastern border provinces of Khost and Paktika, International Medical Corps operates highly successful, award-winning Community Midwifery Education (CME) programs, training women to assist expectant mothers through pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care. Students learn essential clinical skills, including how to perform an antenatal exam, manage severe hypertension, address life-threatening complications and resuscitate a newborn. The Khost CME program has been recognized as the best midwifery training in the country. Its graduates—all raised in the province—are helping ease the major shortage of midwives.

Fatima*, a young woman from the countryside, wanted to be trained as a midwife but her family didn’t support her ambitions. Her uncle especially emphasized that she should focus on getting married and being a good wife. But Fatima successfully fought to get her training anyway and completed International Medical Corps’ midwifery program.

One night, Fatima was woken up by loud banging on her front door. It was that same uncle, frantic because his pregnant wife, Amina*, was in labor and in excruciating pain. It was 1:30 in the morning but Fatima quickly gathered her supplies and headed out in the dark.  She walked across rough Afghan terrain for an hour and half to reach her uncle’s home. As she entered the house, she heard Amina screaming out in pain. Fatima immediately got to work delivering the baby, all the while trying to calm a terrified Amina.

Fatima delivered a healthy baby boy at 4:30am but Amina remained in distress. Using her training, Fatima identified and addressed the life-threatening complication—saving Amina’s life as a result. But if she hadn’t been there, Amina would have died—like too many others. Unsurprisingly, Fatima’s family now whole-heartedly supports her training!

International Medical Corps has trained 2,000 midwives like Fatima. Each one can provide up to 330 women from her own community with maternal healthcare. That’s 660,000 women reached—every year.

Despite the unsettled security conditions, International Medical Corps has tended to Afghan healthcare needs for over a quarter of a century. We provide support to two major hospitals in Kabul, one in the eastern border province of Paktika, and four District hospitals. We also support a mental health hospital in Kabul and associated substance misuse center through funding from the European Commission. Other programs include support for returning Afghan refugees, and integrated community healthcare and nutrition programs in the mountainous northeastern province of Nuristan and primary healthcare services delivery in Paktika.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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