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In Afghanistan, Women Step Up to Fill Need for Frontline Health Workers

Photo courtesy of DAI.

A midwife nurse intern works with a young client at Jowzjan Civilian Hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of DAI.


Female clients often want care from female health workers, but they're in short supply.


Communities across Afghanistan—especially the dispersed populations in rural areas—have long endured a lack of basic health services due to low numbers of trained health workers and chronic security issues. But this situation is improving.

Today, a program to bolster women’s inclusion in Afghanistan’s mainstream economy is also serving to fill high-priority needs in maternal and infant care, vaccination, skilled nursing, and other health services.

There is a huge demand for skilled female medical staff.

The Promote: Women in the Economy (WIE) program is enjoying noteworthy acceptance in the health sector, both by local clinics and hospitals that need trained workers and by young women wishing to train for and fill those jobs. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by DAI, WIE has facilitated 8,000 internships and apprenticeships and assisted hundreds of women-friendly businesses across Afghanistan. Among WIE’s results:

  • Health internships and apprenticeships: Implemented by 24 job placement officers and managers across Afghanistan, the WIE Internship and Apprenticeship program’s network of 1,600 vetted employers provides safe working conditions for young women who are often entering the professional workplace for the first time. WIE has facilitated more than 1,700 internships and apprenticeships in the health sector alone.

  • Forward Together Scholarships: Of the 4,380 women earning these cost-share scholarships, 534 have completed or are enrolled in medical technology skills development courses, with 310 attaining full-time jobs and another 35 securing internships. WIE’s pre-vetted training providers teach courses in ultrasound, emergency obstetrics, pharmacy, mammography, and more than 10 other specialties.

“Traditional culture, security concerns, and social norms are factors that often bar women from entering the workplace—however, the situation is different in the health care industry,” says Dr. Hamid Shirzad, director of Global Innovation Consultancy Services, a WIE grantee for nursing and radiology training for women. “Female practitioners are needed to help female patients, especially in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatric care… There is a huge demand for skilled female medical staff.”

Giving Women a Chance to Excel

In Afghanistan as elsewhere, cultural norms require that only women may provide health care to other women, especially during intimate circumstances such as pregnancy and childbirth.

Yet these countries often present complex and challenging environments that restrict women’s access to training, leading to low numbers of midwives, nurses, and female community health workers, especially in rural locales. Hence, women and girls go untreated.

In Afghanistan, this shortage has resulted in high rates of maternalchild, and infant mortality.

“We can fill crucial needs in community health care delivery by opening up these opportunities to young women,” says Chris LeGrand, president of DAI Global Health. “In northern Nigeria, for example, many families are willing to break with tradition and support their daughters going away to train in midwifery, nursing, and other skills, especially when they see the need for such workers in their own communities.”

Before, female patients in need of care would cancel appointments.

In Afghanistan, socio-religious expectations and the poor quality of rural education have in many cases rendered girls unprepared to enter the health workforce. But these conditions are addressable, as WIE is demonstrating. A few examples:

In Kandahar: First-Time Dental Visits

Due to cultural and safety concerns, women and girls in Kandahar province struggle to locate acceptable dental and health care.

When WIE introduced a basic dentistry training course, 13 women enrolled and 11 graduates found jobs, becoming among the first female dental practitioners in Kandahar.

Laila became the first woman to work as a dental assistant in the Ahmadi Dental Clinic, prompting her employer to promote dental care for female patients. Since hiring Laila, the clinic’s roster of female patients has steadily increased.

“Before, we had too many issues in that female patients in need of care would cancel appointments,” says Dr. Sharifullah Sharafat, the clinic’s owner. “They were not comfortable to be in an examination room with a male dentist and no female assistant. With Laila, we can offer proper care for female patients in an environment that makes them comfortable.”

Added Laila: “Now I have a job that is critical in helping women in my community get dental care, many of them for the very first time.”

Read more at DAI Developments.

This post originally appeared in full on DAI Developments.