National Coordinator for Health Programs, Aga Khan Foundation
In Afghanistan, there are extremists everywhere — but not the kind you think: I mean people living in extreme poverty, extreme pain, extreme despair. At the same time, there is extreme resilience and extreme hopefulness. Resilient is how I describe a country whose people have survived decades of warfare and instability and have always managed to prevail.
Still, many lack access to decent healthcare. In my new position as National Coordinator for Health Programs with the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan, I work on programs that help the most vulnerable in Afghanistan: mothers and children. A few years ago, Save the Children ranked the country as the worst place in the world for pregnant women and UNICEF described it as “the most dangerous place to be born.”
One of the Aga Khan Foundation’s main health aims is improving the infrastructure, delivery, and quality of healthcare in Afghan hospitals including Badakhshan Provincial Hospital in Faizabad, where I visited in late September. Badakhshan has the highest rate of maternal and child mortality in Afghanistan due to many factors, including lack of healthcare workers (especially a lack of female health professionals), the isolation imposed by mountainous terrain and heavy snowfalls and cultural restrictions on women’s movement and autonomy.
Financed by Germany, Norway, and the United States, there are projects for upgrading infrastructure and enhancing the quality of medical service by training healthcare workers and providing continuing education. We also have programs in post-graduate education for maternal and child health professionals, improvement of diagnostic and treatment services, strengthening institutional capacity for evidence-based interventions, and enhancement of eHealth diagnoses and trainings.
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