by Farid Behbud
KABUL, April 8 (Xinhua) -- Scarcity of female health workers still remains a challenge in conservative Afghanistan despite improvement in women's status and progress in the health sector within the last 17 years.
Malalai Noori, 19, a dedicated lecturer and medical worker, provides health service to people in safe and insecure areas despite social, cultural barriers in the poverty-stricken country.
Malalai, a native from eastern mountainous Paktia province, is among the those of hard working female aid workers in the province, 100 km south of Kabul who help upgrade women status in Paktia, one of the conservative places of the country. In Afghanistan, many families do not allow their girls to go to school.
When Malalai told her family that she wanted to become a nurse, they supported her decision. The neighbors, however, tried to talk them out of it, according to a story updates obtained by Xinhua from United Nations Development Program recently.
"My neighbors told my father not to let me go to nursing school," said Malalai. "They thought that if I went, it would encourage their daughters to go to school as well. They said I had no future as a nurse."
The Afghan maternity-related death toll has reduced to 396 in 100,000 live births in 2015 from 1,600 in 100,000 live births in 2002. Afghan Public Health Minister Firuzuddin Firuz, addressing a ceremony marking the World Health Day on Saturday April 7, said that the number of death of the children under five is also reduced to 55 in 1,000 live births from 257 in each 1,000 live births in 2002.
But Malalai's father ignored the neighbors and she became a student at nursing school. The UNDP and the Global Fund, in coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, have been funding six nursing schools in Baghlan, Farah, Nooristan, Paktia, Takhar and Sari Pul provinces.
In spite of some challenges, Malalai finished the course in 2016 and she is now a lecturer in a private medical institute where she earns 15,000 afghani (217 U.S. dollars) per month. She not only shares her knowledge by teaching but also assists neighboring patients living with severe conditions.
"We cannot overcome the challenges in providing health service to people particularly in remote areas but the service of dedicated midwives and female medical staff must not be ignored. We really appreciate and praise their hard working," Minister Firuz said.
In remote Afghanistan's districts and villages people do not allow women to be treated by male aid workers.
"We still need thousands of female doctors as well as nurses and midwives," the minister noted.
But Malalai gets a lot of joy from helping people.
One evening not long ago, Malalai returned home tired after work, and was sitting in her yard, marking some test papers. A knock came at the door. A young woman stood there in tears as she asked Malalai for help.
Her daughter had been bitten by a poisonous snake and was gravely ill. Malalai ran towards the woman's house and found the girl lying on the floor surrounded by grief-stricken relatives.
"I was able to provide first aid and make sure her condition was stable until she could reach a hospital. Three days later, I saw the same eight-year old girl playing on the street with the other kids," said Malalai. "This made me really happy."
The nursing schools set up by UNDP and the Global Fund have trained more than 200 nurses like Malalai. No doubt they will go on to save many lives.
Three decades of war have had a devastating impact on the health sector in Afghanistan.
Two fresh polio cases were detected in Afghanistan late in March, bringing to five the number of confirmed cases of polio virus since January this year.
The ongoing insurgency and conflicts have been hindering the efforts to stamp the infectious disease out in the mountainous country.
In 2002, only 9 percent of people had access to health services but the health centers accessibility has increased to 60 percent and 90 percent respectively by one hour and two hour walk between the said years, Firuz said.
He said only five U.S. dollars were allocated for one Afghan to access health services each year, the lowest sum compared to other countries.
At the same ceremony to mark the World Health Day, Dr. Rich Peppercorn, country representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), praised Afghanistan's development in health sector, saying that the organization would work with the war-torn country to expand quality health services to the country's remote areas.