New Mid-wives Clinic Brings Hope to Paktika Women
"There is a huge recognized need for mid-wives in Paktika. We have only about 12 mid-wives located throughout the province," said Navy Lt. David Bennett, the Physician's Assistant for the PRT.
The Paktika Director of Public Health, Dr. Abdul Mateen, requested assistance from the PRT to develop a plan that would not only remedy the lack of women's healthcare, but create an economical advantage by producing employment and stability for the women of the province.
"In Paktika, there are not enough mid-wives and if they have a clinic and the women's health training center in Sharana, it will be very prosperous for the women so that they can work in the province," Mateen said.
Besides promoting economic prosperity, another purpose of the clinic is to train mid-wives to increase the amount of successful births. Bennett explained that in the current environment, the traditional method of pre-natal care, as well as labor and delivery, is overseen by the most senior or experienced female in the family.
"That contributes a lot to the infant mortality rate and maternal death rates here in Afghanistan. About 1 in 5 babies die in birth. The maternal rate is not much better, about 1 in 8, and those are from complications, bleeding, and infections," he said.
Proper healthcare greatly decreases infant mortality, and mid-wife Sonja Berdez said she rarely experiences the loss of a patient.
Berdez said she is the only mid-wife that she is aware of, and she works constantly. She sees an average of 30 patients each day, and delivers up to 20 infants monthly. While she loves her job, she explained she is extremely busy, and having additional mid-wives in the area would enable more women to have comprehensive healthcare.
The 18-month training program would double the amount of mid-wives in Paktika after one cycle.
"We are looking to train between 12 and 15 students per class. Dr. Mateen has provided me 25 names of females from different districts to be trained. That is actually 2 classes' worth, so we are very excited," Bennett said.
Extensive efforts from Mateen and the PRT have made it easy for students to enroll and participate in the program, including a no-cost solution for both training and living.
"It is 100 percent free. There is no cost for the student. It is funded and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development in many provinces in Afghanistan. In addition to free training, we have accommodations for the females to live while they are taking the training," Mateen said.
Finding a suitable facility has proven to be a challenge, but Bennett and Mateen have worked together to construct a plan that satisfies the necessary requirements.
"There really isn't a structure around here that is compatible with primary healthcare for females, or a classroom learning environment. So we converted a building and made one half of it a clinic and the other half of it classrooms that are dedicated strictly to women," Bennett explained. "We also wanted to be able to provide a living space for the students that would be attending the course, so we converted pre-made plans for an 8-room school into living quarters. We put up some dividing walls, added plumbing, and it will house up to 16 families. We are pretty excited about that."
In addition to the immediate benefits of a training program of this nature, the mid-wife clinic will contribute to the overall goals of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy by increasing the educational opportunities and capabilities in Paktika.
"The female education rates in Paktika are the lowest in all of Afghanistan," Bennett said. "I think the literacy rate is less than one percent for the females. If they are educated, or are going to receive an education, they traditionally go to another province. So with the long-standing history of Paktika being an undereducated, underserved province, they will greatly benefit from having a university-style education facility."
A university-level approved curriculum will prepare each student for a National exam that they will complete in Kabul prior to receiving their certification.
"This curriculum is organized by the Ministry of Public Health through "Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics" in all the training centers in Afghanistan. We will be using the same standard for curriculum in Paktika," Mateen said.
Bennett said he expects the completion of the project to take approximately a year, and attributes much of the success of the preparation phase to the initiative, honesty, and dedication of Mateen.
"Of all the line ministers and line directors that we have, he is the most pro-active, influential, and widely respected. He does what he says, he tells us what he is going to do, he asks us for help, and when we ask him to do something, he actually does it. He doesn't have an ulterior motive and he is explicitly trustworthy," Bennett said.
Mateen's enthusiasm for the project is matched only by the prospective students and their families, who are eagerly awaiting the opportunities the clinic presents.
The local people are aware of this project and they are very, very interested," said Mateen. "They are happy, excited and willing to send their daughters and sisters to the training center."