Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maternal Healthcare in Afghanistan

On Tuesday, July 14th, I was privileged to be able to attend a presentation regarding maternal health in Afghanistan. The event was sponsored by Women’s Policy, Inc. and funded through a grant provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The speakers included the Honorable Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Department of State; His Excellency S.M. Amin Fatimie, M.D., Minister of Public Health, Afghanistan; Pashtoon Azfar, President, Afghan Midwives Association; and Harshad Sanghvi, MD, Vice President of Technical Leadership and Innovation, and Medical Director, Jhpiego.

The event was a truly eye-opening experience. It provided me with a better understanding of the challenges, triumphs, and goals that Afghanistan continues to face regarding maternal healthcare throughout the country. A shocking statistic presented at the event stated that as of 2006 Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality ratio in the world: 1,600 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Comparing this number to 2005 statistics recorded in America which states there are 11 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, one can see how exceptionally high Afghanistan’s ratio is (UNICEF). However, because of organizations such as UNICEF, Jhpiego, USAID and UNFPA, as well as the initiative of the Afghani people, improvements and advancements have been seen throughout Afghanistan. These advancements have been realized through the construction of hundreds of clinics, the creation of midwifery programs for training women in competent and successful medical practices, in addition to the establishment of educational programs regarding maternal health and female empowerment for both men and women.

Though the people of Afghanistan have suffered significantly because of war, a terrible and oppressive regime under the Taliban, as well as limited opportunities to education and healthcare, there still remains great hope. Through the support of the American government, politicians, donors and numerous NGOs, the Afghani people hope to overcome these challenges and stand on their own in a democratic and successful nation within the next 10-15 years as stated by His Excellency S.M. Amin Fatimie, M.D. Pashtoon Azfar pointed to a quote by Mahmoud Fathalla which sums up the larger picture regarding the issues that Afghanistan and many other nations are facing regarding the support and assistance of women and their basic human rights: "Women are not dying because of a disease we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving." Therefore, the challenge of the next generation, our generation, is going to be securing the value of women’s lives in every society throughout the globe.

The New York Times recently published an article both referencing this event, but more importantly the article featured Ms. Pashtoon Azfar, who was one of the key speakers at the "Maternal Health in Afghanistan: How Can We Save Women's Lives?" event. To read the article click on the following link: