Before reaching hospital, the woman and her child died

Every two hours, a woman dies in Afghanistan while giving birth, making it one of the worst countries for childbirth deaths.

Karimdad Rahimi, a resident of Baghlan province, said the dire situation faced by women during childbirth due to the lack of proper medical facilities. He emphasized, “Khost district, which is more than 100 kilometers away from Pul Khumri, the center of Baghlan province, has difficult roads, and due to the lack of facilities of the obstetrics and gynecology department in the health center of this district, often women during childbirth either their own or a child’s life is lost.”

Karimdad Rahimi, Khost district of Baghlan Province. Photo The Afghan Times Photographer

Reflecting on a tragic incident, Rahimi shared his personal experience, stating, “I took my cousin’s wife to the Khost district health center when she gave birth, but there were few health facilities there, so we had to take her to Pul Khumri, Baghlan center, until we got the car.” Recounting the desperate attempt to seek medical assistance, he added, “A few hours passed and finally we found the car and headed towards Pul Khumri. Before reaching hospital, the woman and her child died in Pulfi Kotal area.”

Every two hours, a woman dies in Afghanistan while giving birth, making it one of the worst countries for childbirth deaths.

Last December, Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, highlighted Afghanistan’s dire situation, where one woman dies every two hours during childbirth.

About 40% of Afghan women give birth at home, but in remote areas, this number jumps to 80%. They often rely on help from their mother-in-law or local women, and sometimes they go through childbirth alone.

Bakht Bibi, a notable woman in Kurangal village of Kunar province among families, is renowned for her assistance during childbirth, despite not having received formal education. In a village where every woman relies on her expertise, the absence of trained medical professionals poses a significant challenge.

Bakht Bibi said, “I didn’t go to school but I can help the women in the village during childbirth.” Her willingness to assist stems from necessity, as she explained, “There is no female doctor or midwife in Kurangal village, the only hope of the villagers is me.”

Having aided numerous women during childbirth, Bakht Bibi acknowledged the unpredictable outcomes, stating, “I have collaborated with many women during childbirth. Some are lucky, and the baby is born alive.” She also highlighted the limitations faced by villagers, emphasizing, “Among them, those villagers are lucky to reach Kunar Asadabad Hospital.”

The distance between Kurangal village and Asadabad hospital is 36.8 kilometers. The absence of cars in the village and poor road conditions exacerbate transportation challenges for the residents.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, for every 100,000 viable births in Afghanistan, 638 women lost their lives during childbirth.

Newborn children, MSF maternity hospital in Khost province. Photo The Afghan Times Photographer

Prior to August 2021, women in Afghanistan, except in villages, were able to travel independently to distant hospitals, which was a crucial ability that often meant the difference between life and death for themselves and their children. However, following the Taliban takeover, strict restrictions have been imposed, confining women to their homes. As a result, they face significant hurdles in accessing life-saving medical care because they are required to have a male companion accompany them. This policy is putting their health and lives at risk.

Under Taliban rule, women are marginalized from public life, and their education and work access is severely limited. This threatens the future of the medical sector as many families prefer female healthcare providers.

The majority of MSF medical staff at the maternity hospital in Khost province are women. They aid in the delivery of 1800 babies every month. If the restrictions persist and are fully enforced, more women would encounter severe, and potentially insurmountable obstacles to receiving antenatal, labor, and postnatal care.

Nearly 37,000 babies were born in the MSF maternity hospital in Khost province last year, allowing almost 20,000 mothers to safely deliver their children.

Newborn child, MSF maternity hospital in Khost province. Photo The Afghan Times Photographer

The residents in Khost are satisfied with the maternity services provided by MSF Hospital. However, they demand that these services, specifically in the women’s department, be expanded to other provinces. This will ensure that mothers and newborns in remote areas are protected from the risk of any harm.

The reporter from The Afghan Times spoke with several individuals outside the MSF Maternity Hospital in Khost. During their conversation, the individuals expressed a desire for the hospital to expand its branches to other districts and provinces. “Doctors Without Borders hospital departments should be opened in districts and other provinces,” said Noor Bacha, a Khost resident.

“We collaborate with the Ministry of Public Health and operate in two hospitals in Kabul and one in Helmand province. Additionally, we manage a maternity hospital in rural Khost province and a drug-resistant tuberculosis program in Kandahar,” stated MSF South Asia.
With an average of six children per woman in Afghanistan, multiple pregnancies, cesarean sections, and miscarriages escalate the risk of maternal mortality.

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