Infant Mortality in Afghanistan: A Story Changed

By Jamie Forster, Marketing Coordinator

Imagine for a moment that you are pregnant. Your local hospital recently shut down but even if it were open, you could not afford to go there. Many women and babies in your village have died in childbirth. You do not know if you will have any complications during labor, but if you do there is no one to help. 

It is difficult to imagine what this is like, but for many women in Afghanistan today, this is their reality. According to the UN, every two hours, a woman dies in Afghanistan from pregnancy-related causes. Maternal and infant mortality rates in Afghanistan are an ongoing problem that is being greatly worsened by the current humanitarian crisis. With recent government instability and heavy foreign sanctions, hospitals have been forced to close and poverty is at an all-time high. OCHA predicts that if the country stays on its current path, 97% of Afghans will need aid to survive. In a crisis such as this, the most vulnerable- being pregnant women, newborns, and toddlers- are negatively impacted at a disproportionate rate to the rest of the population.

Healthcare Accessibility 

In the past, the majority of Afghanistan’s public health programs were supported by international funds. This revenue has since been cut-off due to strict sanctions put on the Taliban-ran government. These sanctions have contributed to the closure of over 87% of Afghanistan’s healthcare facilities (Save the Children). The few facilities that remain are overcrowded, understaffed, and ill-equipped to provide proper care to their patients. Even before these nationwide closures, for those living in rural communities, accessing any sort of healthcare (including prenatal and neonatal care) has not been a viable option. Hospitals are oftentimes miles away from these areas and many are without transportation. Without appropriate care, these vulnerable newborns and mothers oftentimes die from preventable, birth-related causes.

Infants receive medical care at a BirthAid clinic

Women’s Rights

Before the Taliban takeover in 2021, Afghanistan was ranked at 169 on the Gender Inequality Index and was among the top 15 globally in infant mortality rates. As gender-based restrictions and cultural oppression increase under Taliban rule, infant, toddler, and maternal mortality rates are sure to grow with it.

Women are no longer allowed to work, go to secondary school, be in public without a face covering, or access healthcare without a male chaperone (Al Jazeera). These new constraints are leaving pregnant women with no choice but to give birth at home. Without any medical staff or equipment, if something goes wrong, they are on their own.

With the onslaught of gender-based restrictions, surging violence, and neglect, many of these women are experiencing high levels of stress. The care a woman receives during pregnancy is directly related to the safety of her delivery and the health of her newborn. During pregnancy, stress can lead to a shorter gestation period, meaning the baby is born premature. Premature babies are more likely to have severe and potentially fatal health issues without proper treatment. 

The infant mortality rate in Afghanistan is growing into a critical state as the humanitarian crisis there remains out of focus and out of reach on a global scale. This is where BirthAid comes in.

A Story of Hope

Despite all the obstacles, there is hope. Saving Moses is combating these issues by providing BirthAid. BirthAid is a community-based education program that trains participants on safe birthing practices and neonatal care in rural areas, high-conflict zones, and internally displaced communities. For many, having knowledge surrounding these topics can mean the difference between life and death. Khabir*, a class participant told our team,

“If you would have come earlier, many of our mothers and children would be alive today.”

Another participant, Aaina* recently completed our BirthAid course and was able to put her knowledge into action sooner than she expected. One night, not long after her last class, she discovered her brother’s wife going into labor. It was the middle of the night, and Aaina* knew they didn’t have enough time to make it to a health clinic, as there were none nearby. She had to be the one to deliver the baby. She cared for her sister-in-law through the night and after many hours, was able to deliver the baby safely using the skills she learned through the course. Aaina* and her family were incredibly grateful that when the moment came, she was ready.

One Life Saved Makes All the Difference

We are seeing an incredible amount of participation in our trainings, and many who have completed the course are going out and sharing their knowledge with others in their community.

For many, the story has changed. Now imagine again that you are pregnant. You have no other choice but to give birth at home, but you know someone who has been trained in safe birthing practices and neonatal care will be there. You have hope that you and your baby will survive. 

The situation and statistics are astounding, and it can be easy to feel so overwhelmed and hopeless that we end up doing nothing. In times when I am tempted to go this direction, I remind myself that in a world with overwhelming need, helping just one can make all the difference. As the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan continues to grow, we will grow with it.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

References:

USG op-ed: Saving Afghanistan | OCHA (unocha.org)

AFGHANISTAN: Health system collapse will result in thousands of additional child deaths each month – Save the Children | Save the Children International

Gender Inequality Index (GII) | Human Development Reports (undp.org)

Taliban orders Afghan women to cover their faces in public | Taliban News | Al Jazeera

Lifesaving support for new mothers in crisis-wracked Afghanistan | | UN News

One Response

  1. Dear Sarah, I just watched Shivi’s story (living in a train station in India with her two children). Thank you so very much for caring, loving those who are in such dire circumstances in this world. I so wish I could visit places and hug these women and children but that will not happen for me. So thank you, again, for “doing for the least of these”. God bless you and your team(s).

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