Photo Essay: Afghanistan, the Worst Place to Be a Mother

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Save the Children’s Mothers Index was published earlier this month and ranks Afghanistan as the worst place for mothers. The following photo essay was originally published on the Health Newborn Network blog. It is reposted here with permission.


A newly pregnant woman (centre) sits with two mothers waiting for vaccines in Guldara’s Basic Health Centre, one of the few health centres providing trained birth assistants in the area, Kabul Province, Afghanistan. Save the Children’s new Mother’s index rankings reveal Afghanistan to be the world’s toughest place to be a mother. Lalage Snow/Save the Children”

Despite ongoing conflict, expecting mothers in Afghanistan are at least 200 times more likely to die in birth than by a bomb or bullet. Fazilas mother, Makay, died after the birth of her brother, Shamsubin. Olivia Arthur/Magnum photos for Save the Children


Four months ago Shakila gave birth to twins with no health worker to support her. A skilled health worker, such as a midwife, is only present at 14% of births in Afghanistan. Shakilas twins were lucky to survive this time – last year she lost her baby in childbirth. Lalage Snow/Save the Children


Access to a health worker is crucial, untreated illnesses such as pneumonia can kill a child within hours. Here, six month old Nabila is treated with oxygen and antibiotics. The doctors say she will be fine but her mother does not believe it; I see her unconscious and I lose hope. Mats Lignell/Save the Children”


Shahzada, outside her home in Kautarma Mahjereen village in Jawzjan Province, Northern Afghanistan. She is pregnant again and says, I have learned a lot from my first child. With my second child I will go often to the clinic for checks. Inside her home lies the cradle left empty when her first son died last year. Tahir was three when he died one year ago from malnutrition. Shahzada is now nine months pregnant. Mats Lignell/Save the Children


Solutions do exist. Sediqa, 12 years old, attends a child focused health education session in Dehsabz district. Children discuss common health issues, such as how to prevent diarrhoea. Mats Lignell/Save the Children


Lima has been a midwife at the Uruzgan provincial hospital since 2007. She says, I love my job because I help pregnant women to give healthy births. I hope one day there are clinics with doctors, midwives and necessary equipment in all eight districts of Uruzgan province. Last month she received 5 home delivery cases, each mother had given birth at home with no qualified assistance. None of the babies made it to the hospital, and the mothers suffered severe bleeding and died at the hospital. Mats Lignell/Save the Children


Munira is training to be a midife in Kabul. She says, the current number of midwives is not enough; but the greater increase the greater the decrease in the mortality rate of mothers. Midwives are the saving angels of mother and child. Lalage Snow/Save the Children


A midwife attends to the a newborn baby in Istiqlal hospital, Afghanistan. Lalage Snow/Save the Children


There is a global shortage of 3.5 million health workers, including 350,000 midwives. Lalage Snow/Save the Children