Midwives: A lifeline for Afghan mothers and babies

In Afghanistan, less than 40 percent of mothers are assisted in delivery by a doctor or midwife. World Vision has trained 200 midwives to work in hospitals across western Afghanistan, part of our efforts to end preventable child deaths through the Survive to Five Challenge™.

By Chris Weeks, World Vision United Kingdom
Published September 3, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

Working at the only neonatal unit in Herat province, Afghanistan, midwife Sudina Hossini is all too aware of her responsibilities.

Before she has time to answer a reporter’s question, the 24-year-old breaks off the interview to resuscitate a baby who is suddenly rushed into the ward.

The newborn is blue and not breathing, but Sudina works swiftly to ventilate the child’s lungs. In minutes, the baby is crying and regaining color, soon to be reunited with the mother in the next room.

Without Sudina and her skills, the story might have ended differently.

‘If we weren't working here…more children would die’

Sudina is one among 200 midwives trained by World Vision who work in hospitals across western Afghanistan. Thirty community-level midwives will soon extend service to remote areas.

This baby, not yet named, is one of about 15 whom Sudina saves from death every day. Since qualifying two years ago, she estimates that she has resuscitated 700 babies.

“I became a midwife because I wanted to reduce the rate of death of mothers and children in Afghanistan,” Sudina says. “If we weren’t working here, of course it’s true that more children would die.”

A dangerous place for mothers and children

Sudina and her colleagues in this tiny neonatal unit face immense challenges.

Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest mortality rates for children; more than one in 10 dies before age 5, according to a government survey (pdf) sponsored by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.

Less than 40 percent of Afghan mothers are assisted in delivery by a doctor or midwife. Women living in cities are twice as likely to deliver in a hospital, compared to women in rural areas.

The risk of a woman dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth is one in seven.

Dr. Shahara Sarem, 32, duty doctor in charge of a maternity unit, explains that World Vision is addressing issues head-on.

“Some mothers travel miles to get help from villages and districts around Herat,” she says. “There are some really complicated cases like pre-eclampsia and ruptured placentas. Women even come from much further away, like Badghis and Ghor provinces, because this is the only place they can get treated.”

Giving life back

The maternity unit in Herat is a constant hive of activity, seeing 150 to 200 patients in 24 hours. The caseload normally includes between 20 and 50 Caesarean deliveries, many of them extremely complicated.

“The shifts are long, and we don’t always have the right medicines for all patients,” says 23-year-old Tayibe Shafiq, who has worked at the maternity unit for two years. “But the happiest moment for me is the moment they bring a baby to the hospital who is in a bad way.

“I use the skills I have learned to take care of the baby, to give its life back, and I watch it get better,” she continues. “The mother is happy, the family is happy. That’s the best moment of my life.”

Survive to Five™

World Vision’s midwifery training program in Afghanistan is a component of our global Survive to Five™ Challenge, which seeks to end preventable child deaths through interventions like skilled birth attendants.

For children in the developing world, the first five years of life are most deadly, and if a child lives to see his or her fifth birthday, chances of survival increase dramatically.

There are a few basic reasons why children under the age of 5 die from preventable causes — and simple, inexpensive solutions can help them survive. In addition to providing training for midwives in Afghanistan, World Vision works to equip children and families in places of poverty with nutritious food, neonatal care, vaccinations, clean water, insecticide-treated bed nets, oral rehydration solutions, and other interventions.

By joining this challenge, you can help us save many children’s lives from needless death.

How you can help

Thank God for midwives in Afghanistan who are saving lives every day. Pray for protection for mothers and infants in Afghanistan and other countries where neonatal medical services are scarce, and pray for children everywhere who are vulnerable to death from preventable causes.

Donate now to help promote maternal health in Afghanistan. Your gift will help World Vision provide training for midwives like Sudina, as well as prenatal and ongoing healthcare for Afghan mothers and children.

Make a donation to support World Vision’s Survive to Five Challenge. Your gift will triple in impact to help deliver life-saving interventions in places around the world where children’s lives are at risk.