In many parts of the developing world, when the sun sets, delivery wards become empty—without somewhere for nurses and midwives to stay nearby, late-night deliveries are often not attended by health care professionals. Even at the times of day when medical staff are available, many women do not have the transportation or the finances to access their services.

These conditions make it remarkable that Murzia gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a local health centre early one morning. After several painful experiences in childbirth including two miscarriages, when Murzia learned that she was pregnant with her fourth child, she was determined: “The physical and mental trauma and pain of experiencing abortions and delivery complications had really affected my health adversely. I did not want to repeat the mistake of being careless and let myself and my child suffer again.”

A woman accesses screening services in a local health facility. PWS&D and CWSA are working to make ante and postnatal care available to women in underserved areas of Afghanistan

Thankful to not have to travel far or take another loan in order to afford treatment at a private clinic, Murzia followed the advice of her peers to visit the PWS&D-supported health centre newly constructed close to her home in Laghman province, Afghanistan. Months of neonatal support and the staff’s dedication to ensuring a prompt, hygienic delivery gave Murzia the power to say, “I am a very happy mother. My newborn is healthy and my health has improved too.”

In a country where the maternal mortality rate is too high—close to 400 women die every day from childbirth or the complications of pregnancy—it is imperative that all women have the help of skilled health professionals before, during and after the delivery of their baby. According to the World Bank, this could decrease maternal mortality rates by a whopping 74 percent.

PWS&D works with Community World Service Asia (CWSA) to improve the quality and availability of services for pregnant women by helping health-care workers grow their skills and by building and equipping health facilities in underserved areas in Afghanistan. Through this vital work, midwives are not only available around the clock, but also travel to assist pregnant women living in rural areas where isolation makes the maternal mortality rate markedly higher.

The work of PWS&D and CWSA does not stop here, because maternal and neonatal health care services are only successful if women are able to access them.

A nurse provides outpatient care at a PWS&D-supported health clinic.

Only one in two Afghan women participate in decision-making about their own health care. Many also do not have a say in how their household’s finances are spent, so even a small transportation cost can prevent them from getting the care they and their baby need. In order for women to have the opportunity to seek, receive and advocate for appropriate health services, their autonomy must be improved.

PWS&D’s maternal health project in Afghanistan and Malawi is helping decrease maternal mortality by ensuring men understand that when women make decisions regarding their own health, everyone benefits. Programs that teach about sexual and reproductive health rights, family planning and gender equality are helping whole communities, as behaviours that put women and girls at risk are put behind them.