Midwives changing lives and communities in Herat Province, Afghanistan


After losing her first baby two years ago as a 15 year old, JanBibi recently gave birth to a baby boy who was born prematurely, weighing just 1400 grams. A midwife named Malali and a recently established Neonatal Unit at Rezaee Hospital in Herat Province, Afghanistan were the difference between life and death. Unfortunately this life saving health service was not available when JanBibi’s first child was born, and subsequently died within days. This is not just the reality of life in Afghanistan, but for millions of families across the world. More than 1 million newborn babies die on the very day they are born, and an additional 1.2 million stillbirths occurring during labour.

These newborn deaths occur because of premature birth and complications during birth, such as prolonged labor, pre-eclampsia and infection, which can be easily avoided if trained and equipped midwives are present prior to, during and following birth. Our greatest challenge in order to give babies every chance at survival, is to work with communities, governments, corporations and civil society to ensure that the most vulnerable and hardest to reach mothers and babies have access to the critical services provided by midwives.

This clearly saved the life of JanBibi’s baby boy: “I don’t know what would have happened if this neonatal room with these expert staff and equipment had not existed in the hospital. Without them, my baby would not be alive now and I would not have any hope.”

The Neonatal Unit that JanBibi had first-hand experience of was established by World Vision Afghanistan and last year treated more than 27,200 children. These midwives were trained through World Vision’s Community Midwifery Education program. The impact of this program in strengthening health systems and developing key health capabilities in Herat Province, has not only been recognised by the local community, but also the government – who has agreed to lead on the scale-up of this important facility. This process was facilitated through the Child Health Now campaigns ongoing engagement with the local community, civil society, and service providers including Provincial Departments of Public Health and the Afghan Midwifery and Nursing Education Accreditation Board. The impact for mothers and children in the area has been significant, with the Provincial Hospital taking the decision to prepare two rooms to act as a dedicated neonatal unit and providing immediate work opportunities for the 30 midwife students from remote districts of Herat province once they complete their required 2-years of study.
The proportion of newborn deaths as a total share of child deaths is increasing – concerted action to improve care around the time of birth is both urgently needed and critical to the attainment of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. World Vision's Child Health Now campaign and partners will mobilise children and communities around the world for the Global Week of Action from 1st- 8th May, 2014. Together, we will call for accelerated action on MDGs 4 & 5, highlighting the need to reach the hundreds of millions of unseen, uncounted and invisible children living life on the margins. We would like to work with as many partners as possible; to see our calls echoed across the whole spectrum of maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition. You can take action in a number of ways as an individual or through your organisation.

Written by: Andrew Hassett, Director of Global Campaigns, World Vision International