Midwives continue to deliver amid uncertainty in Afghanistan

UNFPA’s midwifery helpline continues to operate, providing uninterrupted life-saving obstetric support to birth attendants facing pregnancy complications and dangerous deliveries. © UNFPA Afghanistan
  • 28 September 2021

NEW YORK, United Nations/Afghanistan – Even before the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the situation for pregnant women was dire – the country had one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.

Today, “humanitarian catastrophe looms”, said UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at a high-level meeting at United Nations Headquarters. Forty years of conflict, chronic poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, recent escalations in hostilities and political uncertainty have left the health system gutted.

“The sharp increase in hostilities across the country [has] also severely impacted health facilities and health personnel, and further stretched thin resources responding to the increased health needs,” reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  

Despite these challenges, midwives throughout Afghanistan are continuing to operate, bringing critical life-saving care to women and girls in need. 

A midwife measuring the blood pressure of an older woman.
UNFPA’s teams on the ground are largely composed of women; their unrestricted mobility is essential to the continuity of life-saving services. © UNFPA Afghanistan

“UNFPA is committed to continue delivering for women and girls of Afghanistan,” said UNFPA’s Representative in Afghanistan, Dr. Aleksander Bodiroza. 

Services uninterrupted despite hardships

UNFPA-supported services have been able to continue largely because they are conducted within, and with support from, local communities.

“Our strong community-based approach has allowed UNFPA to remain operational on the ground, working to ensure access to life-saving reproductive health services, supplies and medicines for all. This is critical for reducing maternal deaths and reaching the most vulnerable with essential health-care services,” Dr. Bodiroza said. 

UNFPA’s midwifery helpline, for instance, has been providing uninterrupted remote support to midwives facing complicated deliveries, dangerous pregnancies and other critical concerns. This helpline – currently staffed by two expert midwives and two gynecologists – provides advice, referrals, and even step-by-step instructions to walk midwives, nurses and other birth attendants through complicated, life-saving procedures. 

UNFPA also continues to operate three mobile health teams, which are currently deployed in areas with large populations of displaced people, responding to the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health needs of those with access to few resources or services. 

A midwife providing a health service to a newborn child.
Midwives are providing life-saving health services to pregnant women, post-partum women and newborns. © UNFPA Afghanistan

UNFPA’s family health houses, which provide maternal health services in remote areas, supported more than 9,500 safe deliveries in the first six months of 2021 alone. These, too, continue to operate. 

Women helping women

These efforts are scaling up, where possible. Essential to these programmes are the contributions and participation of women. 

In fact, UNFPA’s teams on the ground are largely composed of women professionals. Their continued unrestricted mobility is necessary to continue UNFPA’s life-saving work.

“We must stand strong and stand together to save lives and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls, including their right to participate fully in all aspects of society,” Dr. Kanem said. 

Dr. Bodiroza echoed this urgent call to action: “Our ability to preserve the gains of the past 20 years for women’s reproductive rights is central for the future of the country.” 

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