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"I cannot express how happy I am": how maternal health programs are bringing joy to families in Afghanistan.

KHORI FELT LIKE A BURDEN TO HER HUSBAND, CONSTANTLY having to ask him to take her to the health centre in the city. In the poor, remote Afghan village they live in, there is no hospital close by. Travelling was expensive, and Khori soon grew hesitant to seek the care she needed.

The scarcity of health services in rural Afghanistan creates an especially dire situation for pregnant women, new mothers and their children. Without proper medical care, becoming a mother can be life threatening. Even if medical services are available, strict cultural barriers often exclude women from accessing the necessary services and treatment, and exercising control over their reproductive health.

PWS&D has been working with partners in Afghanistan and Malawi to address these issues since 2011. By establishing new health facilities, training birth attendants and educating and engaging communities about the importance of maternal health and proper newborn care, PWS&D's maternal and child health program is helping women and children survive childbirth and have healthy and hopeful lives.

In 2015, the Government of Canada announced its approval of up to $4.1 million for a new PWS&D maternal health project, which will be twice the size and build on the success of the previous project (2011-2014). PWS&D is thrilled to carry on the work that is empowering women and girls and growing the availability of health services in Afghanistan and Malawi.

The project has been immensely valuable to Khori, who no longer feels like a burden to her family. Funds from the program went towards establishing a new health centre in her village. "It is now easy to get medical assistance," she shares.

When Khori's daughter-in-law was pregnant, she was able to have routine checkups at the new centre. Because it is close by, both women could travel there themselves, feeling confident and independent. Under the care of practised birth attendants, Khori's daughter-in-law delivered a healthy baby boy.

"I cannot express how happy I am," says Khori. "If this facility did not exist, we might have had to travel far or would have done the delivery at home, which in both cases would have been very risky."

Health education and changing societal attitudes are also improving the way mothers care for their newborns.

Shazia is one of these mothers. One day, she arrived at a PWS&D-supported outpatient clinic in Afghanistan, cradling her desperately malnourished daughter, tiny in the folds of her floral blanket. Shazia believed her baby was afflicted with a bad omen and sought treatment from traditional healers. Health workers explained that her daughter was malnourished and treated the baby immediately. The little girl's health is improving each day.

Shazia now knows how vital it is to ensure correct medical care, rather than treatment from traditional healers. Mothers are also learning about nutritious newborn diets and the benefits of breastfeeding through PWS&D-supported health sessions.

While the journey to ensure healthy, abundant life for all is not over, changing attitudes and the growing availability of health services in Malawi and Afghanistan are cause for celebration. PWS&D is committed to this vital work because with every new clinic constructed, midwife trained and health session conducted, mothers and newborns are surviving and thriving--one community at a time.

This program receives generous support from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

Government of Canada

Gouvernement du Canada
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Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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