Reaching Afghan women in remote Bamyan province

After more than 40 years of armed conflict, natural disasters, and epidemics, Afghan people today face a new phase in a grinding humanitarian crisis.

Girls walk to school with mountains of Bamyan province, Afghanistan in the background.

Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi

When the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, 2021, foreign development funding was cut overnight. Afghan assets held in the U.S. and other countries were frozen, and many international organizations left the country. Since then, pressure has been steadily building on an already undersized, over-burdened public health system, making it increasingly difficult for people to access health care.

The situation is particularly difficult for those living in rural areas, where lack of access to medical care remains commonplace, requiring patients to travel long distances for treatment. In a country where 34 million people live below the poverty line many people struggle to afford transportation.     

This year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has opened eight new health facilities in Bamyan, a province in central Afghanistan whose terrain is over 90 percent mountainous. This region is home to the Hazara community, a historically marginalized and still poor ethnic minority who live in small, remote villages without adequate access to primary health care.

An Afghan young woman in a red headscarf holds her child in a red shirt against a dark background.

Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi

“When my first son was born, my mother-in-law had to pay 6,000 AFG (about $70 USD) so we could travel to Bamyan’s provincial hospital. Now, we can finally get care closer to home for free."
— Naqiba, MSF patient

Gender-based restrictions impact women's health in Afghanistan

Afghan women experience massive barriers to accessing care due to gender-based restrictions on their freedom of movement and their ability to work and study under Taliban rule. In Bamyan, it is estimated that over 40 percent of new mothers delivered their babies at home without professional assistance in 2022.

MSF teams have since provided over 1,200 prenatal and postnatal consultations, more than 3,400 pediatric consultations, screened nearly 2,000 children for malnutrition, and referred 75 patients to Bamyan provincial hospital for the treatment of more complicated health issues. Further expansion of MSF services in the region is planned for second half of 2023.  

Two women in headscarves play with a child in a red shirt in a dark room in Afghanistan.
Naqiba’s mother, Bas Bibi plays with her granddaughter Zainab in their home in Jarokasha. Zainab was Naqiba’s first child. She is now eighteen months old. Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi
Maternal and paediatric health care in Bamyan province

Rohida visited an MSF clinic in Jalmish for treatment for high blood pressure. MSF opened the facility on March 28. Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi

“Before we had no place to go. Sometimes it feels like women have been forgotten around here. I’m happy that someone remembered us."
— Rohida, MSF patient
Maternal and paediatric health care in Bamyan province
Sakina, who is just 10 days old, is the first child born under the care of a midwife in the MSF-supported health facility in Band-e-Amir. MSF teams have assisted over 100 deliveries in Bamyan so far this year. Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi

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Maternal and paediatric health care in Bamyan province
Naqiba and her husband Ismail play with their daughter Zainab in their home in Jarokashan village in Band-e-Amir, Bamyan Province, Afghanistan. 2023 © Nava Jamshidi
Mountains of Bamyan, Afghanistan.
An MSF staff member in a white vest walks toward an MSF clinic and a woman in black veil in Afghanistan.

From left: An MSF team travels to Pusht-e-Awaz, a remote valley in Bamyan Province, where MSF supports another health care facility for mothers and their children; the MSF health clinic in Band-e-Amir. In 2023, our teams opened eight such clinics in remotes areas of Bamyan to provide reproductive, maternal, neonatal. and pediatric care in collaboration with local communities. Afghanistan © Nava Jamshidi

A mother and child next to the shadow of a window in Bamyan province, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi

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MSF staff member takes the blood pressure of a patient in an MSF-supported health facility in Afghanistan.
MSF midwife Hajira Mohammadi measures the blood pressure of a patient in an MSF-supported health facility in Jalmish. Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi
Women and children wait for treatment at an MSF health facility in Afghanistan.
Patients in the waiting room of the MSF-supported Band-e-Amir health facility in Yakawalang 1. The facility receives more than 50 patients each day, mostly women and children under five, and provides prenatal and postnatal care delivery, along with maternal care, pediatric consultations, malnutrition screening, and referrals of complicated cases. Afghanistan 2023 © Nava Jamshidi