Pregnancy is a life-threatening condition in Afghanistan. One in nine Afghan women dies during or shortly after pregnancy, giving Afghanistan one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (UNICEF, 2007). Women and children in Afghanistan face risks to their lives and health that are among the most severe on the planet.
Responding to this humanitarian health crisis, the Abbott Fund, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), and Direct Relief have joined forces to ensure the survival and improve the health status of women, infants, and children. This partnership has lead to significant medical material aid to AIL, located in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the combined total support from Direct Relief and Abbott eclipsing $4.2 million (wholesale).
Afghanistan’s health crisis can be linked to a lack of infrastructure, a shortage of medical professionals, and limited access to those professionals. A 2002 study by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health estimates that 60 percent of the population lacks access to any form of healthcare, and only an estimated two percent of women give birth with a trained health professional present.
Staffed and run by Afghan women, AIL operates health centers and mobile clinics that focus on maternal and child health, providing hundreds of thousands of people in remote villages with their only source of medical care. Ms. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of AIL, has been a long-time champion for the health and education of women and children in Afghanistan and was among the 1,000 women nominated to receive the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
Recognizing the unprecedented challenges faced by AIL, the Abbott Fund supported three of AIL’s clinics, including sponsoring the education of 19 women to be nurses, midwives, and health educators. In 2006, AIL graduated their fi rst Abbott-sponsored class. In 2007, the enrollment of students increased to 45, with approximately 100 women on the waiting list for the next class.
AIL’s community based approach, which includes delivering services while training additional nurses and midwives, is essential to reduce the tragic and preventable loss of life among women and children. AIL’s work, enhanced significantly by the Abbott Fund’s investment as well as Direct Relief’s ongoing support, is a bright source of hope for the future.