In 2011, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) opened a hospital dedicated to providing care to women living in rural areas in northeastern Pakistan. On May 18, 2016, Peshawar Women’s Hospital marked its fifth anniversary. Today, the hospital admits around 85 patients every week and safely delivers more than 4,700 babies each year.
Thanks to local partnerships, MSF offers free services not only to women deprived of quality health care, but also to those who present with high-risk pregnancies, for whom a safe delivery environment is essential.
"The hospital provides essential obstetric care for women from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa District, Kurram Agency, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)," explains Catherine Moody, MSF country representative in Pakistan. "Many cannot afford the services offered by other facilities or, as in the case of many of the women of FATA, currently have no access to skilled obstetric services near their homes."
"We also provide care for women who experience serious complications during pregnancy that can compromise the health of themselves and/or their child during pregnancy, labor, and the post-natal period."
A Referral Network
To ensure improved access to care, a medical referral network has been set up among the area's health centers, rural communities, and displacement camps. The facility also serves as a referral structure for the patients MSF medical teams treat in Kurram Agency in the hospitals of Sadda and Alizai.
Improving health care for mothers, babies, and young children is a priority for MSF in Pakistan. The Peshawar Women’s Hospital aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in its catchment area.
With a maternal mortality rate of 170 per 100,000 live births and under-five child mortality rates around 86 deaths per 1,000 live births, Pakistan has one of the world's highest rates of maternal and infant mortality. Women still die from preventable complications during pregnancy and less than one in three deliveries is supported by trained birth attendants.
Urgent Care for Newborns
The hospital also offers free health care for babies that are premature or suffering from several pathologies at birth in its 15-bed newborn unit.
"Most babies admitted in the newborn unit require intensive care treatment due to neonatal infection or sepsis," explains MSF pediatrician Dr. Anokhi Ali Khan. "A significant number of mothers we receive have high-risk pregnancies requiring specialist care. [One] example is prolonged rupture of the membranes, which is a break in the amniotic sac, exposing the baby to an increased risk of infection. Newborn babies have an immature immune system and are incapable of fighting simple infections, which can rapidly spread through the blood stream, infect organs and result in death of the baby."
"For the mother, uterine rupture is an example of a very serious condition, one that leads to infertility and can sometimes be fatal," adds MSF obstetrician Dr. Sobia Azeem. "The risk of fetal loss is also high. But with timely emergency care to repair the uterus, there is still a chance [for the woman] to have children in the future. Then, for any further pregnancy, regular antenatal care, early booking for hospital delivery, and proper counseling of the patient are key for a successful outcome."
MSF also provides training to the Pakistani medical staff of community-level Basic Health Units so that they can form a vital link to the hospital. If patients with high risk pregnancies can be identified during their antenatal consultations, they can be referred to Peshawar Women’s Hospital for specialized care when necessary.
Over the past five years in Peshawar Women’s Hospital, MSF delivered 15,093 babies in the maternity unit and treated 2,137 neonates in the newborn unit.