Intensifying conflict results in immense medical needs

Women and their children wait at MSF-supported Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province. Some traveled for hours to reach this hospital, which is the biggest in the province.
AFGHANISTAN 2014 © Paula Bronstein/Getty Reportage
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Escalating conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in a growing number of patients with an array of medical needs.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) focuses much of its work here on increasing access to emergency, maternal, and pediatric care. A quarter of all births assisted by MSF worldwide are in Afghanistan, a country that has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.

In Afghanistan, around 4,300 women die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth each year. (In the United States, there are around 700 pregnancy-related deaths each year.)

Women’s lack of access to appropriate care is one of the main reasons behind high maternal mortality rates. Around 40 percent of pregnant women in Afghanistan receive no antenatal care, and up to two-thirds of babies are born at home unassisted. Because of cultural norms, many Afghan women will only seek care from a female health care provider. Restrictions on women’s access to education have resulted in few trained female providers to provide that care.

MSF teams are working hard to reverse these trends. All of our projects here emphasize training local female staff, and almost all of the midwives assisting deliveries in MSF programs are Afghan women. We helped deliver more than 70,000 babies in 2017.

delivered by MSF teams across the country in 2017
had outpatient consultations at Kabul's Ahmad Shah Baba hospital
treated for severe malnutrition at Helmand's Boost hospital

MSF’s maternity hospital in Khost, established in 2012, is one of the busiest private maternity departments in the world. The hospital provides safe, high-quality, and free maternal and neonatal care to women and their babies in the eastern part of the country.

We are also improving access to emergency and pediatric care by providing free services in hospitals and health centers across the country.

We support two hospitals in Kabul, which has experienced massive population growth in recent years. Since 2009, MSF has supported the Ahmad Shah Baba district hospital in eastern Kabul, which serves more than 1.2 million people. MSF runs the outpatient and inpatient services, with a focus on maternal health and emergency treatment, and supports a wide variety of other medical activities. The hospital conducted over 116,000 outpatient consultations in 2017 and admitted more than 2,000 patients each month. More than 20,000 babies were delivered at the hospital, an average of almost 60 per day.

Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi hospital is the only facility for emergency and complicated deliveries in the district. MSF runs the labor and delivery rooms, an operating theatre for Caesarean-sections and other complicated deliveries, a recovery room, a 30-bed maternity unit, a 20-bed neonatology unit, and a five-bed “kangaroo room,” which provides specialist care for sick babies in their first days of life.

We have supported Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province, since 2009. Helmand is one of the areas most affected by active conflict, and chronic insecurity makes it difficult for people to get access to health care. In 2017, the team assisted 11,000 deliveries and performed more than 90,000 emergency room consultations. Almost 3,500 children were treated for severe malnutrition, 40 percent more than in 2016. 

MSF has pursued negotiations with all parties to the conflict regarding the need to ensure a safe humanitarian space. After US military airstrikes destroyed its trauma center in Kunduz in October 2015, killing 42 people, MSF engaged in intensive advocacy to call for the protection of medical facilities. In July 2017, MSF opened a small medical clinic in Kunduz, our first facility there since the 2015 attack.

MSF first started working in Afghanistan in 1980. It is now among our largest country programs.