|© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009/Walther|
|Mah Gol brought her 22-year-old pregnant granddaughter, Saliha, to the UNICEF-supported Maternity Waiting Home in Kandahar to ensure that she would be well-cared for during her final days of pregnancy.|
By Cornelia Walther
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, 23 October 2009 – Maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan are among the highest in the world. In the southern region, 1,600 women out of every 100,000 die in childbirth.
Limited access to health facilities has been a major obstacle for women in the region. The cost of public transportation, the risks of travelling while pregnant and the prevailing security situation all discourage women from seeking proper prenatal care.
Now, UNICEF-supported Maternity Waiting Homes are bringing skilled prenatal and postnatal care to women in remote, difficult-to-reach areas. The pilot programme aims to save the lives of mothers and newborns, even if complications occur.
“We had no other option than to bring her here. This is the best place now,” said Mah Gol, grandmother of 22-year-old Saliha Haschira, pregnant with her first child and being cared for in the Maternity Waiting Home of Kandahar.
A pleasant atmosphere
The 17-bed facility is the first of its kind in Afghanistan. Launched in 2007, it became fully operational in November 2008. It is located near the regional hospital of Kandahar to provide women with a place to stay safely before and after giving birth.
The Maternal Waiting Home has a pleasant atmosphere; the interior is clean and painted in bright colours and is decorated with posters that explain the basics of child nutrition. Beds are available for family members to accompany the expectant mother.
To conform to local customs, the medical team is exclusively female and composed of three trained midwives and a matron.
“Families prefer to keep their wives and daughters at home because they want to avoid the male doctors in a hospital,” said Fatima Rastgar, who brought her daughter to the home after she started bleeding uncontrollably. “I can’t count the women who come here only when it is already too late to save their lives or the one of their baby.”
At the home, potential complications are monitored and new mothers are educated on hygiene and child nutrition, among other things.
The foundation of care
The Ministry of Public Health and its partners, including UNICEF, have been working for several years to improve the system of maternal and newborn health. Yet these services can only reduce maternal and newborn mortality if women can access them.
To counteract this, wide-ranging communication and outreach campaigns are being organized by the Ministry of Public Health and its partners. In this way, more women will know there is a place for them to comfortably be cared for, and perhaps save not only their own lives, but the lives of their newborns.
“When it became clear that it would still take over 24 hours until my baby was born, she transferred me to this place, which is right next door to the obstetric court of the hospital. A midwife has come every hour to check on my progress,” said Ms. Haschira.