Empowering Women for Rural Health in Afghanistan

[Madina, community health worker in Afghanistan]Madina, community health worker in AfghanistanAfghanistan is facing an enormous healthcare challenge – not having a sufficient number of qualified healthcare workers available to address the pressing healthcare needs of women and children in rural communities. With 85% of the population living in villages, there are few options to provide proper care and advice to these rural families.

Continuing to employ community health workers (CHWs) is proving to have an impact. Over 21,000 trained CHWs provide better access to health services for rural families in Afghanistan.

In 2010, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), with support from Management Sciences for Health (MSH) has trained 700 CHWs to educate families about proper sanitation and hygiene. CHWs provide basic services and refer patients to health facilities after checking for danger signs in sick children and pregnant women. Since roughly half of the CHWs are women, the CHW program is promoting women's empowerment.

Madina, a widow who lost four of her eleven children during the Taliban years, gave new meaning to her life by becoming a CHW. She was trained and provided with a supply of essential medicines. She works under the supervision of the Comprehensive Health Center in Istalef, a small village on the edge of the Shamali Plains, north of Kabul. She travels from house to house three days a week to provide prenatal care and family planning advice to women, she said: "I come to the health center to help my community to provide essential services, to educate in areas where there is no nearby health facility, and provide prenatal care and family planning advice."

The MoPH's National Program of Community Based Health Care (CBHC) has mobilized more than 21,700 CHWs who provide basic health education, services, and referrals. Each CHW is assigned to take care of the basic health care needs of 100-150 families (approximately 1000 individuals). The Ministry of Public Health's CBHC program is a significant step towards improving access to health care for rural communities, especially for women and children.

The Technical Support to the Central and Provincial Ministry of Public Health (Tech-Serve) Project is one of the main partners supporting the MoPH in CBHC. Tech-Serve works at the central and provincial level to build MoPH capacity to perform its primary function of guiding the health system by establishing national health objectives that address national health priorities while ensuring equity and fostering sustainability. Tech-Serve provides ongoing technical assistance in key public health technical areas and engages both central and provincial managers in developing their management and leadership skills to focus on health results and accountability. This project is an Associate Award under the Leadership, Management and Sustainability Program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and was launched in July 2006 by MSH.

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