Afghanistan faces midwife shortage in rural areas

In rural Afghanistan, a critical shortage of midwives poses severe risks to the health of pregnant women, an issue highlighted as the world marks International Day of the Midwife on May 5.

Residents of remote areas report that the scarcity of midwives and health centers leads to a high number of maternal deaths. Shakiba, a 16-year-old from a remote district in Herat province, shared her fears as she expects her first child. “I am six months pregnant with no access to clinics or midwives nearby. Given my young age, I am very scared of complications that could occur before reaching the city,” she said.

Midwives also report challenges following restrictions imposed on medical institutions by the Taliban, which have led to a decline in available healthcare providers in remote regions. Seema Mohmand, a midwife, noted, “On this International Day of the Midwife, we are facing a stark shortage of healthcare workers, particularly midwives. Those with official approval from the ministry are few, and even though many have completed two years of training, they cannot practice without approval.”

According to the UN’s health agency, about 24,000 women in Afghanistan’s remote areas give birth each month, underlining the urgent need for skilled healthcare providers. The agency stressed the importance of access to trained doctors and midwives to prevent maternal deaths.

A human rights watchdog recently reported a crisis in Afghanistan’s health sector due to Taliban-imposed restrictions. These include a ban on girls attending school beyond the sixth grade and prohibiting female students from attending universities.

The Association of Afghanistan’s Midwives revealed that out of every 100,000 births, approximately 600 women die annually due to pregnancy-related issues.

Zari Gul, a resident of the Jween district in Farah, described the hardships faced by families in accessing healthcare. “There are no midwives or doctors here. If someone gets sick, we have to travel to Farah’s capital. Our economic struggles make it even more challenging,” she explained.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has highlighted a global shortage of one million midwives. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in Asia, with 638 deaths per 100,000 live births.