women’s healthcare in Afghanistan

The years of Taliban control have decimated Afghanistan’s healthcare system. Since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, civil wars and internal conflict have made it difficult for the Afghan system to rebound. Almost 800 medical care centers have closed in the past ten years due to strife, and surveys indicate that 40 percent of people living in Afghanistan are unable to access healthcare services. While the struggle for adequate healthcare affects everyone in Afghanistan, it hits women the hardest. In order to strengthen the country’s infrastructure, it is crucial to improve women’s healthcare in Afghanistan.

Under the Taliban, male doctors and nurses were only allowed to touch female patients above their clothing and women were not educated in any facet, especially regarding healthcare practices. While the Taliban has since fallen, these practices still remain ingrained in the culture of Afghanistan. Many people still consider women’s healthcare in Afghanistan the worst worldwide. The projected lifespan for an Afghan woman is about 52 years, which is decades lower than the projected lifespan for a female living in the United States.

The most pressing issue regarding women’s healthcare in Afghanistan consistently remains healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth. Living in one of the most dangerous countries to give birth, around half a million Afghan women die in childbirth every year. This is a result of poor healthcare, a lack of access to healthcare services and a large number of child mothers. Additionally, around 20 percent of women are malnourished, which often results in a premature delivery. The low quality of women’s healthcare in Afghanistan impacts Afghan children as well, and 396 out of 100,000 babies do not survive.

These statistics are incredibly discouraging, but a closer inspection of the numbers can provide much hope for women’s healthcare in Afghanistan. From 2000 to 2010, the death rate of mothers giving birth plummeted from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births to 327 deaths per 100,000 births. The mortality rate of children under the age of five dropped from 257 deaths per 1,000 children born alive to 97 deaths per 1,000 children born alive. Life expectancy, access to vaccinations and access to clean drinking water has also improved. The statistics are still grim but show substantial progress and encouragement for the healthcare initiatives that have taken place in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.

There are several reasons for the improvements to Afghanistan’s healthcare system. The government has worked with the European Union, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Bank to provide better healthcare to the Afghan people. Through their funding, women’s access to healthcare in Afghanistan has improved substantially from the zero percent that could access it a little over a decade ago.

The Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan has also made significant strides through SEHAT, the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition. This program trains women to be nurses and midwives, empowering them to serve their community and reducing the number of women who die because their husbands will not let them be treated by male healthcare workers.

Several other organizations have also funded projects to support health in Afghanistan. The Red Cross sponsors clean water and healthy food initiatives throughout rural provinces. UNICEF funds and supports healthcare teams that travel throughout the country in order to provide care for women, particularly those living in rural areas, who cannot travel to a hospital.

It is important to understand that the healthcare crisis in Afghanistan is incredibly real, and action needs to be taken to save the lives of the Afghan people who are dying because of inadequate access to healthcare, a large number of whom are women. However, the progress that has been made in Afghanistan over the last twenty years provides proof that things can and will get better through continued healthcare initiatives.

– Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

Many churches around the world donate to charities to fight poverty. However, the African Methodist Episcopal Church  created its own agency to support the poor in Africa and the Caribbean. Its Service and Development Agency (AME-SADA) has been providing humanitarian assistance and development aid in Haiti and Africa for decades.

Though AME is an American church, it was founded by those of African descent. The church has three stated purposes, and the third addresses its work through its Service and Development Agency : to “provide continuing programs which will enhance the entire social development of all people.”

AME-SADA was founded 28 years ago, with the aim to “help people help themselves.” However, the church itself has been working in Haiti for more than 125 years. AME-SADA receives financial support from its own church members, the American government, donators and foreign institutions. In 2011, the agency was awarded the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund to help their Cholera Prevention Program in Haiti.

In line with its motto of helping people help themselves, the Service and Development Agency provides health, education, and micro-credit programs. However, in emergencies such as the Haitian earthquake in 2010, AME-SADA provides quick relief.

In Haiti, AME’s  Service and Development Agency has a Child and Maternal Health Program that offers services such as pre and post-natal care for women aged 15-49, newborn care, disease and malnourishment care, family planning and counseling. The agency also supports outpatient clinics for treatment, health education and counseling. It provides water purification tablets, cleansers, disinfectants and oral rehydration packets for the treatment of cholera.

SADA-KREDI is closely related to AME-SADA’s healthcare programs. Some groups in the Haitian communities asked the agency for help supporting the clinics, and so AME’s Service and Development Agency brought members from clinic support groups to work at village banks. Three thousand women participate in an orientation for business and group dynamics, which lasts for 9-12 months. Then they are given loans of $500 in local currency for nine months.

AME-SADA also provides health care in Port-au-Prince in Haiti for 30,000 elementary school children.

Though the majority of AME-SADA’s work is in Haiti, the church has other programs in South Africa. AME has had churches and schools in the country since 1896. The agency’s college, Wilberforce Community College, provides higher education and encourages younger students to stay in school.

 – Kimmi Ligh

Sources: African Methodist Episcopal Church 1, African Methodist Episcopal Church 2, AME-SADA 1, AME-SADA 2, AME-SADA 3, Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Our Health Ministry
Photo: Our Health Ministry