Afghanistan: MSF opens new maternity in West Kabul
Dec 01, 2014
It is 4.00 in the morning.
Awaken by a phone call, the team from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) rushes to maternity ward. The district of Dasht-e-Barchi in West Kabul is sleeping but inside the hospital, we are in a rush. A mix of urgency, anxiety and excitement is palpable. This is understandable. When the team first set foot in the hospital earlier this year, the brand new 42-beds maternity ward where they now stand was an empty building. Nine months later, the launch of the project has been not unlike a complicated delivery. Today, couple of days after the opening, a young patient suffering from complications burst in the middle of the night. Behind the doors of the labor room, we can hear people moving around, words in Dari and muffled female voices.
"Mina, 17, first pregnancy, facing obstructed labor". She's lying on the bed, already in labor for hours in silence but with her face contorted in pain. The baby is too big for her to be delivered normally and she will need an emergency C-section. Complications like this are common but in Afghanistan, the number of medical facilities able to manage such problems is scarce, even in the capital. Most women and their families cannot afford to pay for private medical consultations and end up giving birth in their own homes. In case of complications like this one and in the absence of trained medical assistance, giving birth can end up fatal.
The team in MSF's new maternity ward will focus on such complicated births, and on saving the lives of mothers and babies who have nowhere else to receive specialised care.
Mina will need to be operated on soon. MSF midwife Daniela hands her over to the Operational Theater team, Renate the nurse and Diana, the gynecologist. Together, they sum up 115 years of medical experience, honed through many years of working at MSF facilities throughout the world. Such a veteran team is necessary for training the 23 midwives, 21 nurses and four gynecologists who have recently been recruited to work in the new ward.
Located in a buzzing marketplace behind a gas station, Dasht-e-Barchi hospital and three small satellite health centres are the only options for public healthcare in the district. The population of this neighborhood of Kabul is estimated to have grown tenfold over the past ten years, and now has more than one million inhabitants. The public maternity hospital supported by MSF will not be able to cater to all the health needs in the area, but the team expects to see more than 130 complicated cases a month out of an estimated 600 normal deliveries, and welcome as many lives.
The lights are blazing in the operating theatre and everything – from the probe to the anaesthesia machine – is brand new. In the past week, during the dress rehearsal, every piece of equipment, electrical circuit, water pump and infection control instrument has been tested. Launching a new project relies heavily on what happens backstage. The logistical team has worked for months to rehabilitate the maternity building in the existing public hospital, striving to achieve the high standards for which MSF facilities are known throughout Afghanistan.
It's 5 am. A baby is crying, and it's a 3.3kg boy. Mina is safe and she catches her breath. She hasn't thought of a name yet, but she has time now.
MSF started working in Afghanistan in 1981. In Dasht-e-Barchi, MSF will work hand in hand with the Ministry of Public Health to support the maternity department of the district hospital. MSF also supports the MoPH in Ahmad Shah Baba hospital in eastern Kabul and Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province. In Kunduz, MSF runs a surgical trauma centre, providing lifesaving surgical care to people in northern Afghanistan. In Khost, in the east of the country, MSF operates a maternity hospital. In all locations, MSF provides life-saving medical care free of charge. MSF relies only on private funding for its work in Afghanistan and does not accept money from any government.