"I am almost nine months pregnant, and during my pregnancy, I have never before been to any health facility for advice and support. Our nearest clinic was attacked and burnt around one year ago and now it is used as a military place," says Palwasha, a 19-year old Afghan woman.
Palwasha and her husband live just outside of Kandahar City, in a conflict area where basic health care services are limited. Since this is her first pregnancy, her in-laws decided to take her to the Maternity Waiting Home in Kandahar City. "We heard about Kandahar Maternity Waiting Home from our close relatives," says Bi-Bi Aysha, Palwasha's sister-in-law. "We discussed this issue with our men at home, and I convinced them to take Palwasha to Kandahar."
The Kandahar Maternity Waiting Home was built by UNICEF and CIDA in 2009. It is next door to the Mirwais Hospital, also supported by CIDA. Increasing access to maternal and child health services is a key component in CIDA's work to improve maternal, newborn and child health. Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world―1 death per 71 live births. This is largely due to difficulties in accessing health services, particularly in rural areas. Cultural barriers, insecurity, transport costs and the lack of both health facilities and skilled personnel make it difficult for women to receive the critical medical attention they need before, during and after pregnancy.
Now, as part of standard procedure, pregnant women such as Palwasha are examined by qualified health professionals at the hospital before being referred to the Maternity Waiting Home. For women dealing with high-risk and difficult pregnancies, being close to the hospital means immediate access to specialized care in case of emergency.
Staffed by women only, the Maternity Waiting Home is especially important to families who are sensitive to local customs―for example, husbands who are not comfortable with their wives being treated by male doctors. "I feel safe here," says Palwasha. "No men are in the maternity waiting home, and the staff are helping me and teaching me how to take care of myself and my baby."
Since 2009, the Maternity Waiting Home has offered prenatal and postnatal care to more than 1,400 women from the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan, Nimroz, Daikundi and Herat. Services include counselling on the various warning signs during pregnancy and after giving birth, the importance of early breastfeeding, family planning, personal hygiene, immunization, and prevention of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.
I definitely want Afghan women to get access to healthcare.
I don't want my tax dollars to go towards "family planning" re: artificial contraception.
And while I normally wouldn't mind if a clinic was staffed by women only, if that's what people wanted-- I do have a big problem with women-only clinics to comply with Sharia.