Afghanistan midwives tackle world's highest maternal mortality rate
From AlertNet: A British GP training midwives in Afghanistan has spoken of the daily challenges facing her team as they work to save the lives of mothers and their children in a remote part of the country.
Dr Sarah Pickworth, from Stratford-upon-Avon, is based in the mountainous Province of Ghor, which is sealed off by snow for half the year as temperatures plummet to minus 37 celsius.
Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world; this is the number of women who die in pregnancy, labour and after childbirth. Four years ago, the district “which has a population of 800,000, around the size of Leeds” did not have a single trained midwife.
Sarah said: ‘Healthy newborns run the serious risk of hypothermia as their mothers simply don’t understand the need to keep their baby warm.
‘There are a host of hidden cultural challenges. For example many women bleed to death before they can receive permission from their husband or mother-in-law to get medical help.
‘Most deaths are preventable. It’s down to lack of awareness coupled with unskilled care, and dangerous cultural practices such as cutting the umbilical cord with the edge of a shoe, from a well-meaning villager or mother-in-law.’
Now there’s hope in the form of newly-trained midwives like 32-year-old Shukria. Her close relative bled to death during childbirth when a traditional birth attendant tried to remove the placenta with her hand, but mistakenly pulled out her womb. This horrific moment has inspired Shukria to help others.
Shukria said: ‘When I started working in a new area, we had to face the male elders who told us we were ‘infidels’ who were not welcome in their community.
‘One day the head of the community asked me to see his pregnant wife who was suffering severe headaches. I found she had high blood pressure and referred her for treatment.
‘She recently gave birth to a health baby and the elder was happy, but he came to see me to ask religious questions. I answered his questions easily, then he was happy that I both knew my job and religion’.
Midwives are only allowed to travel with their Mahrams (a close male relative) and each now runs clinics to reach many more mothers and children.
The team trained by World Vision, led by Dr Sarah Pickworth, has grown from eight people to 38. In the last year with the help of a local aid agency, nearly 300 people have been trained in basic health, monitoring the nutrition of more than 20,000 mothers and children each month. More than 90.000 mothers and fathers currently attend these health groups across five districts.