Published: Aug 20, 2012
By Chris Weeks
Midwives are a lifeline for Afghan mothers
©2012 Chris Weeks/World Vision
Tayibe Shafiq, a 23-year-old midwife cares for a newborn.
Working at the only neonatal unit in Herat province, Afghanistan, midwife Sudina Hossini is all too aware of her responsibilities. 

Before she has time to answer a reporter’s question, the 24-year-old breaks off the interview to resuscitate a baby who is suddenly rushed into the ward. 

The newborn is blue and not breathing, but Sudina works swiftly to ventilate the child’s lungs. In minutes the baby is crying and regaining color, soon to be reunited with the mother in the next room.

Without Sudina and her skills, the story might have ended differently. 

Sudina is one among 200 midwives trained by World Vision who work in hospitals across western Afghanistan. Thirty community-level midwives will soon extend service to remote areas.

This baby, not yet named, is one of about 15 that Sudina saves from death every day. Since qualifying two years ago, she estimates she has resuscitated 700 babies. 

“I became a midwife because I wanted to reduce the rate of death of mothers and children in Afghanistan,” Sudina says. “If we weren’t working here, of course it’s true that more children would die.”

Sudina and her colleagues in this tiny neonatal unit face immense challenges. 

Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest mortality rates for children; more than one in 10 dies before age 5, according to a government survey sponsored by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.  

Less than 40 percent of Afghan mothers are assisted in delivery by a doctor or midwife. Women living in cities are twice as likely to deliver in a hospital, compared to women in rural areas.

The risk of a woman dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth is one in seven.  

Dr. Shahara Sarem, 32, duty doctor in charge of maternity unit, explains that World Vision is addressing issues head-on. 

“Some mothers travel miles to get help from villages and districts around Herat. There are some really complicated cases like pre-eclampsia and ruptured placentas. Women even come from much further away like Badghis and Ghor provinces because this is the only place they can get treated,” she says. 

The maternity unit in Herat is a constant hive of activity, seeing 150 to 200 patients in 24 hours. The caseload normally includes between 20 and 50 Caesarean deliveries, many of them extremely complicated. 

“The shifts are long, and we don’t always have the right medicines for all patients. But the happiest moment for me is the moment they bring a baby to the hospital who is in a bad way,” says 23-year-old Tayibe Shafiq, who has worked at the maternity unit for two years. 

“I use the skills I have learned to take care of the baby, to give its life back, and I watch it get better,” she says. The mother is happy, the family is happy. That’s the best moment of my life.” 

Chris Weeks is a World Vision communications officer in the United Kingdom.

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