Midwives Take On the World’s Most Dangerous Country for Women


Written by Margret Aldrich

Imagine that you are nine months pregnant and have to drive seven hours to reach the nearest hospital. You have never seen an obstetrician or midwife for prenatal care and emergency health services are miles out of reach. This is the situation in parts of Afghanistan, where the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world.

As of 2008, it was estimated that 1 in 11 Afghan women die in childbirth. (In Greece, the country with the lowest maternal mortality rate, the statistic is 1 in 31,800.) With a fertility rate of 6.62 children per mother, the life expectancy for women in Afghanistan—recently ranked “the most dangerous country for women” by the Thomson Reuters Foundation—is less than 48 years.

Now, a national midwifery program is one of several initiatives to drastically improve women’s maternal safety, report Isobel Coleman and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in Ms. Magazine. Funded by organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the European Union, the program has trained more than 2,500 midwives. Coleman and Lemmon write:

For women in the country’s most remote provinces, who face the greatest challenge accessing health care in this overwhelmingly rural country, the midwives serve as a lifeline. Of the approximately 500 birth complications that occur daily in Afghanistan, 320 happen in those rural areas. Midwives are also active in cities, making home visits to women too poor or limited in mobility to seek help at clinics or hospitals.

The midwives can affect more than just the maternal mortality rate, they continue:

Along with saving mothers’ lives, the midwives serve as homegrown role models whose economic strength and earning power are changing their families’—and their communities’—views on women’s roles. Midwives can earn around $350 each month, a substantial salary in one of the world’s poorest countries and where per capita GDP is less than $500 per year. The money matters and is playing a role in shifting male attitudes toward women’s work outside the home…. When women begin contributing economically to the family, they also have a greater say in what happens to them and to their children.

“Most people have a lot of respect for midwives because they need health care,” says Fatima, [a] student in the program. “Midwives save mothers’ lives and women’s lives.”

This post was originally published by the Utne Reader.


Related Stories:

Where Are The Best — And Worst — Places To Be A Mother?

A Million Moms To Prevent Maternal Mortality

Bittersweet Success for Afghan Woman Freed From Jail


Photo from isafmedia via flickr

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Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgado2 years ago

Great!!!! Some positive news on these struggling women. Thanks.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle3 years ago

Good info to learn. The death rate is so high, I am aghast, but midwives will increase the safety and viability of women and their babies. That they earn well, is a bonus, and that they are role models for other women and girls, may be the biggest plus.

Vera C.
Vera C.3 years ago

Thanks for sharing. Great program! Train midwives instead of soldiers!

Sue Griffiths
Sue Griffiths3 years ago

This is just a start, but a wonderful programme. We in the West have it easy compared to these poor women. Educating these women in health clinics, including birth control is a must. Good luck to these midwives. They definitely will be role models to other women.

Nikijs K.
Past Member 3 years ago

Signed and shared. :)

Iona Kentwell
Iona Kentwell3 years ago

This is fantastic! A program that helps women in so many ways. The women recieving the many benefits of having a midwife to help them at this potentially very dangerous time, her immediate family as well obviously, the midwives who become respected members of the community as well as having what appears to be very healthy incomes and the women of the community in general who can see that women can be educated, independent and earn money for themselves. This is the kind of change that inspires. Thank you!

Elizabeth O.
.3 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Valerie A.
Valerie A.3 years ago


Thomas W.
Thomas W.3 years ago


David N.
David N.3 years ago

Thanks for the article.