Skip to main content

Helping mothers, babies in one of the worst places for survival

By Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Afghanistan has long been ranked among the worst in the world for mothers
  • Afghan women 70 times more likely to die in childbirth than from a bullet or a bomb, group says
  • Trained midwives are helping battle grim statistics

(CNN) -- The young women in a Kabul classroom are learning how to deal with a difficult birth. As instructors watch over and guide the simulation, the girls gently tug at a baby doll as it passes through the model of a birth canal.

These students, all in their third semester at the Ghazanfar Institute of Health Sciences, will soon join the growing number of midwives in a country where being a mother is ranked among the worst in the world. Women in Afghanistan are 70 times more likely to die in childbirth than from a bullet or a bomb, according to Save the Children.

It's a grim statistic the women here are trying to change.

"My father encouraged me to do this because when he was 10, he lost his mother when she was giving birth to another child," says Almasa Katawazi, who, like the rest of her classmates, hopes to make Afghanistan a better, safer place for mothers and their babies.

Rape victim's mom wants justice or death
Taliban take forceful control of schools
Women tortured for saying 'no'
Civilians hurt by unexploded munitions

Katawazi says she wants women in far-flung provinces to have access to good medical facilities, doctors and midwives. To that end, she says she plans to go and work in Paktika province once she's certified.

In 2003, there were only about 500 midwives in Afghanistan. Today, there are some 3,000. But many more are needed.

"Increasing the numbers of midwives, particularly midwives that live and work within communities and rural communities that might not have access to other health services is an extremely important factor in reducing maternal mortality," says Rachel Maranto of Save the Children.

Still, less than two-thirds of Afghan women have access to nearby health facilities.

"Many, many mothers and children will never see a trained health worker, a doctor, a nurse or a midwife in their lifetime," Maranto says, "and that really needs to be improved and turned around."

It's one of the reasons why groups such as Save the Children, along with other nongovernmental organizations and foreign donors, are funding programs in conjunction with the country's Ministry of Public Health to improve the chances of mothers' and children's welfare and survival.

A mother bravely campaigns for president

One pilot program in Guldara District teaches volunteers how to become community health workers. Many of the women being trained have lost mothers, sisters and cousins to pregnancy-related complications. Many have also buried their babies. They decided it was time to change things.

The women are illiterate, so they learn from pictograms.

"It's good work," says Noorzi, a mother of six. "In my village, maternal mortality has gone down 100% in the last two years."

Noorzi's village may be an exception, but most women there now give birth in the presence of qualified health workers.

Still, sustaining and spreading initiatives such as this one will take even more investment from the international community.

And while NGOs point to a certain success in the reduction of mother and child mortality rates in recent years, the situation in Afghanistan remains dire -- here, a woman dies from pregnancy-related causes every two hours.

That statistic is just one that illustrates the fragile state of women in Afghanistan more than a decade since Western forces ousted Taliban rule.

Speaking out against rape | Tortured teen: 'Same should be done to them'

Back in the Kabul classroom, the midwives in training stay focused.

"Their main goal should be serving mothers and decreasing the rate of maternal mortality," says Turpekai Azizi, a midwife instructor.

It's a noble goal, but one that could be in jeopardy, women and aid workers say they fear, if foreign funding falls off once coalition troops withdraw.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Afghanistan
updated 1:32 PM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Afghans have finished casting their ballots to pick a president in a runoff election between former Cabinet ministers.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Singer and ex-judge on The Voice of Afghanistan advocates women's rights -- despite death threats for not wearing a headscarf.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The improvement in the quality of life for Afghan women is unmistakable, say a bipartisan coalition of women in Congress.
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
President Barack Obama outlined a foreign policy vision of "might doing right."
updated 1:58 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
She was to be married off to pay for her father's debt -- here's her story.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
One music producer hopes to get out Afghanistan's youth vote with a song competition. CNN's Sherisse Pham reports.
updated 8:11 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Despite threats from the Taliban, Afghans turned out in large numbers to cast their vote for a new president and future.
updated 1:27 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
It was not too long ago -- in 2001, prior to the U.S. invasion -- that Afghanistan's women were all but entirely marginalized.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Sun April 6, 2014
As Afghan voters prepare to go to the polls in a hugely important election, CNN looks at the main presidential candidates.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Despite the looming Taliban presence, Afghanistan could see its first democratic transfer of power, Peter Bergen writes.
updated 2:03 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops, an Afghan Army commander says America's support remains critical.
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Fri May 24, 2013
With U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, CNN's Anna Coren reports on a Taliban firefight lasting more than 90 minutes.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon April 1, 2013
Mallika Kapur has the story of a young Afghan graffiti artist who, despite Taliban threats, pushes for free expression.
updated 7:35 AM EST, Mon February 11, 2013
Author William Dalrymple's new book "Return of a King" looks at the history of foreign-led wars in Afghanistan.
CNN.com's 'Home and Away' initiative honors the lives of U.S. and coalition troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
ADVERTISEMENT