by Farid Behbud
KABUL, May 7 (Xinhua) -- Rita Hamidi, a newly graduated midwife, urged the Afghan government to provide female medical staff with proper jobs and security as they struggle to save lives in the war-torn country.
"Over the past decades, the scarcity of professional midwives has been the main reason behind the high rate of maternal mortalities, particularly in the countryside. I graduated from the midwifery department of a private medical institute in Kabul last year, but still I could not find a suitable job," Rita told Xinhua on Saturday, the annual International Day of the Midwife.
"There are hundreds of midwives in Kabul looking for jobs, but Afghan mothers still suffer from a lack of midwives in the countryside where a lack of security is one of the most pressing and striking matters. Midwives cannot move freely in rural areas unless they have a guardian," she said.
"We are living in a conservative society and women cannot move freely in remote villages. The government must take measures to solve such problems," Rita added.
Over the past 17 years, Afghanistan has made progress in the provision of health care services and women are increasingly playing key roles in providing such services.
"I am ready to travel to the countryside but my parents will not allow me. They fear for my safety," she said.
The number of women who work in the country's health sector is on the rise. Currently, 20 percent of 41,500 Afghan health workers are women, according to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.
Another significant achievement in the health care sector in Afghanistan is the dramatic decrease in the number of maternity related deaths.
The Afghan maternity-related death toll has fallen to 396 in 100,000 live births in 2015, from 1,600 in 100,000 live births in 2002, while the number of deaths of the children under five has also dropped to 55 in 1,000 live births, from 257 in each 1,000 live births in 2002, Afghan Public Health Minister Firuzuddin Firuz said last month.
"The reduction of maternity related deaths over the past decade is a great achievement of Afghan dedicated medical personnel, but the key role of midwives should not be ignored," a Kabul-based female doctor, Zahra Naiman, told Xinhua.
"The presence of a midwife at birth is the most important factor in reducing maternal mortality and improves a baby's chance of survival," she said. "Midwives also provide information to mothers on healthy practices to ensure the baby has the best start in life."
The number of midwifes has increased from 500 in 2002 to 5,000 in 2016. However, midwives face serious challenges such as lack of opportunities to upgrade their professional experience and low salaries, she said.
"Lack of professional experience is one of the key challenges for Afghan midwives. For example, midwives should undergo practical studies during their education period but they cannot, because it is hard to find a place to work as trainee to gain real-life experience," she said.
"I could not find a proper place like a public hospital to gain some professional experience and it took me months to be admitted as a trainee in a private hospital in Kabul," Sediqa Fahimi, who teaches midwifery in a private medical institute in Kabul, told Xinhua.
"Unfortunately, the salary of midwives is too low despite being a complex and essential job. A midwife earns 9,000 afghani (about 150 U.S. dollars) per month. And it is not considered a prestigious or important job in Afghanistan. Therefore, many women are not interested in becoming midwives," Fahimi added.