More than $250 million needed to sustain humanitarian response in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – “I had a miscarriage and my two-year-old daughter got sick,” Anisa* recalled after her local health facility stopped providing maternal and newborn health services. “We both needed medical care, but we did not know where to go.”

Anisa, 19, is among internally displaced persons in 1,700 households living in Zhari district, who have to walk hours to reach the nearest health centre. The situation has deteriorated since August 2021 when the Taliban seized control of the country and development assistance halted, including the funding of more than 2,000 public health facilities.

“One day in September, an ambulance came to our community, and we were told to come for free health services,” Anisa said. “I immediately ran to our house to take my two daughters so the three of us could get a check-up.”

The ambulance is one of several mobile health teams deployed by UNFPA to remote areas of Afghanistan where health services have been severely disrupted.

In spite of the challenges, UNFPA continues to operate in Afghanistan, providing maternal health and protection services, including to some of the most remote populations. Mobile health teams, Family Health Houses (health services facilities run by a community midwife), emergency clinics on the borders with Pakistan and Iran and mobile and static protection centres and teams are part of the response. Toll-free hotlines for midwifery assistance and adolescent and youth reproductive health also remain operational.

In its 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, UNFPA seeks to raise $251.9 million to continue and expand services to address the reproductive health and protection needs of 9.3 million Afghans, including 2.2 million women of childbearing age, 2.3 million adolescents and 289,000 women expected to give birth this year. UNFPA’s target population covers 42 percent of the United Nations target of reaching 22.1 million with humanitarian assistance, which requires $4.44 billion in funding.

Serious impacts on women and girls

Even before recent upheavals, Afghanistan had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Asia and Pacific region at 638 deaths per 100,000 live births. Without additional funding, this number could soar to 963 deaths per 100,000 live births between now and 2025. Unintended pregnancies and unmet need for family could also increase.

UNFPA Representative Dr. Aleksandar Sasha Bodiroza emphasized the serious impact of the crisis on women and girls, including that every two hours an Afghan woman dies from childbirth and pregnancy complications – in many cases needlessly. Various reports since August 2021 also indicate increasing rates of gender-based violence.

From August to December 2021, UNFPA reached over a quarter million people with reproductive health and protection services through various service delivery points, Anisa and her two young daughters among them.

“I was examined by a midwife who advised me to delay another pregnancy as I just had a miscarriage,” recounted Anisa, who also received psychosocial counselling to address the trauma of losing her baby. “She explained how I can plan for pregnancy so that my husband and I can plan for the future of our family.”

The mobile health team has been visiting her community at least twice a month, conveniently setting up next to her house. In difficult circumstances, the availability of free health services is one less thing the young mother has to worry about, allowing her a rare optimism. “I grew up not knowing where I was born – my family kept moving from one place to another. Now I am married and have kids. I dream to see my family live in peace.”

*Name changed for privacy and protection

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