When many children in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, became sick with the measles, their mothers were curious about Taj’s child. “There’s an outbreak,” they wondered, “but her child remains healthy. How could this be?”

In Afghanistan, the rates of infant and child mortality are breathtakingly high. For many pregnant women living in small villages, health services like prenatal check-ups, delivery support and immunizations for their newborns are not available locally. Even when these services are available, the power to make decisions about a woman’s health often lies with her husband­—whose choices may not align with what she would choose for herself.

A mother takes her child for vaccinations provided free of charge at the Salingar Health Facility.
Credit: CWSA

In 2019, PWS&D completed the final year of a four-year project that responded to these needs. With PWS&D and Government of Canada support, partner Community World Service Asia worked to increase opportunities for children to make it through the early stages of life. Six new maternity centres staffed with knowledgeable midwives were established to bring maternal and newborn health support to villages where it was not previously available. Through a multi-faceted approach, female health workers were mobilized to provide education to pregnant women and mothers about their own health and that of their children. Essential to allowing women to access these services, meaningful conversations took root with men in the community; now, they better value women’s rights to make their own health decisions.

Choosing for Herself

Taj Bibi is a 27-year-old mother of three. With her husband spending most of his time in Iran and Pakistan in search of work, she has become the one to make the health decisions for her family. “In my husband’s absence,” she shares, “I had to fulfil the needs of my family, including their health needs.”

When a female health worker came to her village, Taj learned about tuberculosis, measles, polio, pertussis and hepatitis as well as the preventative support available at the nearby Salingar Health Facility. Taj decided getting her daughter vaccinated was best for her family, and she took her daughter for the immunizations available at the clinic at no cost.

Taj tells what happened next: “Two months later, there was an outbreak of measles in our area where more than 25 children under the age of five got infected. The vaccine my daughter received protected her from being infected and ill. She did not catch the disease and remained healthy.”

After this experience, Taj began encouraging others to take the steps they need to protect their loved ones. “I recommend for them to vaccinate their children to protect them from diseases.”

A Sense of Relief

A compassionate and just world is one where women are free to make health decisions for themselves and their children. For Taj, the caring health worker and compassionate hospital staff helped empower her to do this: “The staff is very helpful and thoroughly guides us to build better health awareness. There is a sense of relief in us due to the health facility, as it provides efficient health services at no cost.”

*This project received generous financial support from the Government of Canada.