Trainee midwives prepare the labour ward for the first patients of the day at Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar, Afghanistan / Lynzy Billing

Midwives of Afghanistan: Mitigating childbirth crisis in the face of danger

Article 02 November 2020 Afghanistan

A number of reports in the past few years have shed light on the danger which have come upon Afghanistan's healthcare system. Doctors, nurses and even patients have sadly been the subject of attacks from arm bearers. This humanitarian crisis is having serious repercussion on not only the healthcare providers, but patients who eagerly seek medical attention.

Mazia attends to a newborn baby on the delivery ward at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Lynzy Billing / ICRC

Mothers and expecting mothers are one of the most vulnerable groups who are caught in this crisis. Due to attacks at hospitals in recent events, some expecting mothers are left to seek alternative obstetric care in a country where the rate of maternal deaths is raising eyebrows, but situations have gotten much better — courtesy of Afghan midwives.

A midwife stictches up a woman after her baby is delivered by cesarean section at Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Lynzy Billing / ICRC

These role-specific nurses have significantly improved maternal death rate, mitigating the numbers from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 638 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Unfortunately, they are also caught in the crossfire and the most notable incident in recent years was the attack in May 2020 that took the lives of 24 people, resulting in the death of one midwife and 16 mothers.

Portrait of Mazia and Satara who have been working as midwives in Mirwais Hospital. Lynzy Billing / ICRC

Attack on the healthcare system is not the only unsettling issue midwives are facing, overworking, an overload of complicated cases, a conservative health stigma culture, and now, a threat of the worldwide spread of COVID-19. These healthcare providers, along with doctors and nurses, are facing incredible challenges and the potential threat of armed conflict, which have created such an uphill battle in order to keep the lives of newborn and mothers safe.

Read the full story, as published exclusively on Foreign Policy, of how midwives working at ICRC-supported Mirwais Hospital are performing at the highest capacity to care for mothers and babies as well as the alarming threats that hinder that progress of Afghanistan's healthcare system — written by Lynzy Billing.