Mobile health teams save lives in Afghanistan’s most remote areas – Global issues

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Shahpirai, 30, is the sole breadwinner for her husband and three children.

“With my salary as a teacher, I could only afford to pay rent and buy food for my family, but not to seek care for my child“, She said.

An upturn

Her situation took a turn for the better in July last year, when she as she walked through her village noticed that people were gathering in front of an elderly person’s house.

“I asked what was going on and found out that some doctors treated sick women and children.”

The doctors were part of a mobile health team supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which provides medical services to those who would otherwise have no or limited access. In the most remote parts of Afghanistan, the nearest health facility can be over a two-hour walk away, with communities in these areas accounts for most of the country’s maternal and child diseases and deaths.

Even before the current crisis, malnutrition was a critical problem in Afghanistan: according to the latest data from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished by the end of the year.

Parwana is suffering from severe acute malnutrition where children's nutritional needs have also escalated following recent events, as economic shocks are leading to more people in Afghanistan falling into crisis.

© UNICEF

Parwana is suffering from severe acute malnutrition where children’s nutritional needs have also escalated following recent events, as economic shocks are leading to more people in Afghanistan falling into crisis.

From emergency to recovery

Shahpirai quickly took her then 15-month-old son to the mobile team, where she was told that he was acutely malnourished and needed emergency care.

“The doctor prescribed some medicine and referred my son to the Najmul Jihad Health Center, with a note requesting immediate treatment,” the young woman recalled.

At the health center, the young child was thoroughly examined, given medical and nutritional supplies and registered in a program for children with acute malnutrition so that he could receive continuous care and be closely monitored.

“I returned to the center regularly and after three months the doctor said that my son was feeling better and no longer needed therapeutic feeding. I was also given instructions on how to give him the right nutrition at home.”

A crisis unfolding

While the full implications of recent events in Afghanistan will only become clear over time, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the humanitarian needs of the country have already increased sharply and that health care has gone to its knees.

Since August last year, UNFPA has increased the number of mobile health teams it supports across Afghanistan to respond to the humanitarian health crisis.

The team has defied enormous odds to deliver necessary reproductive, maternal, neonatal and infant health and psychosocial support services to mothers and children in hard-to-reach areas that are otherwise insecurely underserved.

In the midst of a deteriorating security situation, teams and UNFPA-supported static emergency departments reached nearly 50,000 people in emergency medical care last month alone.

Shahpirai says she is grateful for this life-saving support.

“It would have been impossible for me to find professional treatment for my son, so I am grateful that the mobile health team regularly comes to our village to provide medical services, especially for women and children.”

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