Helping Afghan Women and Children get Basic Health Services

After more than two decades of war, the health of Afghanistan's people is ranked among the worst in the world. More than 800 children die every day, largely from preventable diseases. Nearly 1 in 4 Afghan children will not reach his or her fifth birthday, and their mothers do not fare much better. An Afghan woman is 100 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related problems than her American counterpart. These deaths are preventable.

Since the fall of the Taliban, the Afghanistan Ministry of Health has been working steadily to improve access to basic health services - specifically focusing on reaching women and children.

Since early 2002, with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Management Sciences for Health has been working with the Ministry of Health to establish a foundation upon which a national health care system can be built and health services can be delivered within Afghanistan.

In May 2003, USAID awarded Management Sciences for Health a three-year $100 million contract to continue our work with the Afghanistan Ministry of Health and local and international partners to address the health care needs of Afghan families. This new REACH (Rural Expansion of Afghanistan's Community-based Healthcare) program is focused on saving lives and improving the health of women of reproductive age and of children under five years of age.

To ensure that an estimated 16.5 million people throughout Afghanistan have access to a basic package of health services, REACH is using a combination of activities that include providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Health and awarding grants to local Afghan and international health organizations.

By administering grants, REACH is helping new health centers get equipment, train staff and maintain a regular supply of pharmaceuticals and health products. Both male and female community health workers are being trained and deployed within communities located more than five kilometers (a little over 3 miles) from each health center. Right now there are only a handful of women health workers in Afghanistan. In a country where social traditions prevent a woman from being seen by a male unknown to her, increasing the number of women health workers is critical to improving access to health care for women and reducing the staggeringly high maternal mortality rates.

According to Dr. Ferozudeen Feroz, Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Health, "…Health is a sound investment … in international peace and security… and a nation can not be secure and it can not rebuild (itself) when the health of its families is in grave danger."

For over 30 years, Management Sciences for Health has remained dedicated to solving the devastating health care problems in Afghanistan. Founder and CEO, Dr. Ron O'Connor acknowledged recently that, "…The health needs of Afghanistan's families are great, but with continued support from USAID and the international community and dedicated efforts by the Ministry of Health and its partners, their needs can be met over the long-term…"