DAND: Married to a much older man from Afghanistan, Wati, who thinks she is in her 30s, is pregnant for the fifth time in four years, including two miscarriages.
She drove to a government maternity hospital in a poor rural village in southern Kandahar province, the home of the Taliban.
“I’m afraid I’ll lose my baby again,” she says. AFP, a small bump was visible on her fragile body.
Decades of conflict and poverty have long turned women into struggles for access to maternal health services in deeply patriarchal Afghanistan.
With the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces and the escalation of violence, there are signs that this could become even more difficult: thousands of women will be forced to flee their homes, roads will become too dangerous to travel, and international aid will dry up.
Women in burqas come to a clinic in Kandahar, accompanied by male relatives who are not allowed to enter and wait outside on the grass.
“I only have permission to leave the house to see a doctor,” Wati says, clutching his medical records in a plastic bag.
Horma’s other mother, who has five children, also had two miscarriages and is worried to find she is pregnant again.
“I worked too much at home,” she said during a visit to a clinic in the Dund area before the Taliban launched their last large-scale offensive across the country.
According to a 2018 study by the Royal Tropical Institute KIT in the Netherlands, 41% of Afghan women give birth at home and 60% do not receive postpartum care.
The statistics are worse in the south, the region most affected by decades of conflict, where clinics are often too far away or require expensive transport through hazardous areas.
“Some families don’t care about pregnancy: women give birth at home, they bleed heavily and go into shock,” says midwife Husna.
– Refusing help is “life threatening” –
According to the World Bank, the international community has provided billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan over the past two decades of US-led military intervention, with the average infant mortality rate halving between 2003 and 2018.
Although health care has improved – mostly in cities – insecurity and poverty remain devastating.
The UN Children’s Agency UNICEF recorded that 7,700 women died in childbirth in 2017, double the number of civilians killed by political violence this year.
The withdrawal of US and NATO troops has been accompanied by a sharp cut in foreign aid, which, according to Human Rights Watch, has already had a “life-threatening” impact on women and girls.
In the dusty village of Kasem Pool, midwife Naja goes door-to-door to watch women during their pregnancies.
“Some families do not let women go to clinics. Sometimes men won’t even let me in, ”she says.
Naja meets Kela in the courtyard of her house, a little boy resting in her lap, his face twisted in pain.
“I want to start family planning,” she says after learning that she is five months pregnant with her sixth child.
“I have economic problems and I cannot take care of all my children. We don’t even have money for soap. “
Most importantly, she enjoys the approval of her husband.
– “My child is dead” –
At a mobile clinic set up in a village on the outskirts of Lashkargah in southern Helmand province, midwife Kandy Gul is examining women and children, many of whom have been displaced by the conflict.
“Most of them are sick. Families do not take good care of women, ”she says.
Patients waited with their sick children in the courtyard – all with excruciating stories of miscarriages or neighbors who died in childbirth.
“My child died in Marjah because I didn’t have access to a clinic or midwife,” said Farzana, 20, who fled her Taliban-held hometown. “Many children have died.”
The situation in Helmand province is “really critical,” Gul later said. AFP by phone as the Taliban continued their offensive.
“All people suffer.”
Desperate mothers are still willing to take huge risks to gain access to health care.
Shazia, who married at 10 and is now a mother of three at 18, said AFP that when she lived under the Taliban, she had to walk for hours to the clinic – and was sometimes blocked by militants.
“It was very dangerous. Three women died on the way, ”said Shazia, who is now relocated to government-controlled Lashkar Gakh.
Rosia arrived from a Taliban-controlled village at the city’s hospital for critically malnourished children, run by the French humanitarian group Action Against Hunger.
Her seven-month-old boy Bilal, born prematurely with a cleft lip, suffers from pneumonia and severe malnutrition.
“I was very scared of the fight,” she said. AFPbut boldly set out after her son’s health deteriorated.
She has already lost one child, also born prematurely, after the nascent hospital asked her to leave the hospital due to lack of resources.
Her baby died three days later.
“No one could help me,” she says. – AFP