Culturally sensitive health care for women in remote Afghanistan

Daikundi is a remote and mountainous region of Afghanistan dotted with isolated and hard-to-reach valleys.

Afghan women train to become midwives as part of the Family Health Houses project. They will then return to their communities to work at a Family Health House, often in a remote area.

The terrain may be stunning but it contributes to an acute lack of access to healthcare. The United Nations Population Fund reports a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications every two hours in the province.

This scenario is common in Afghanistan, where 40% of the population is more than a three-hour walk from health services.

Family Health Houses provide community care

The Family Health House project helps solve this problem. Canada supports this project through the United Nations Population Fund in the region.

Each Family Health House provides services for as many as 1,500 to 4,000 people in a building with a delivery room, examination room and waiting room.

As part of the cultural landscape of Afghanistan, women require care from female health professionals. Services are provided to women 24 hours a day in a safe and culturally acceptable way. The services available to Afghan women include:

  • ante-natal care
  • deliveries
  • post-natal care
  • newborn and child care
  • breast feeding support
  • family planning
  • immunization

In 2016 almost 50 of these Health Houses became operational in the province of Daikundi. The houses provide women with a safe environment where they can make choices about their own health needs and the health of their families.

Local midwives help local women

In traditional rural areas of Afghanistan, women’s participation outside the household is limited.

Part of the success of this project is the selection of local women to attend the midwifery training program. The project encourages more girls to enroll and stay in school with support of their communities.

When the training is complete the women return to their communities to work as paid midwives in the Family Health Houses.

This type of local support helps integrate the Family Health Houses into each of the communities, and informs women of the health services provided.

Improving health of Afghan women at risk

Improving access to quality health care in Afghanistan is fundamental to improving the lives of Afghan women and girls.

The Family Health Houses also has positive effects on the lives of women in the communities to meet the needs of higher-risk patients or complicated cases.

Mobile health teams visit the Family Health Houses and provide supervision and mentoring for the midwives in addition to delivering supplies.

With this built-in oversight, visiting health professionals can make referrals for women and babies who have:

  • emergency care needs
  • high-risk pregnancies
  • complicated delivery and recovery needs

Established communication and transport services between facilities assist with the referrals.

This multi-donor initiative encourages women to push the boundaries of traditional social norms by making choices about their care, circumstances, families and communities.

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