Afghanistan

Supporting healthy mothers and babies

After decades of conflict in Afghanistan, a Red Cross community health programme is making a real difference for thousands of people.

What's wrong?

  • Over 770 hospitals have closed because of damage of security issues.
  •  When hospitals are still open, many people can’t reach them because of fighting or not being able to travel.
  • Nearly a third of Afghanistan’s people don’t have enough nutritious food.
  • Over half of children under five are malnourished and a fifth of women of childbearing age are underweight.

The situation

Decades of conflict have taken a terrible toll on Afghanistan’s people. War has caused not only deaths and injuries but also poverty and a serious shortage of trained doctors and nurses.

This leaves people vulnerable to diseases that would be preventable or easily treatable if they had access to health services and a balanced diet. For instance, diarrhoea is one of the biggest causes of child death in Afghanistan. 

And women there are the most likely in Asia to die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Many people also face psychological and emotional issues. 

How we’re making a difference

The remote Balkh province is particularly badly affected and has few health centres or trained medical staff.

For eight years, the Red Cross ran health project there with our partner the Afghanistan Red Crescent. Together we supported families in 40 communities to improve their own health.

Many rural families had to drink water from streams or other contaminated sources. Only about a quarter of families had hygienic toilets, leaving them vulnerable to diseases spread by dirty water.

To change this, over 400 community volunteers helped to build wells and install toilets through our project.

At regular community group meetings, people learned about how good hygiene supports health and would then share this information with their neighbours. Up to 10,000 people have taken part.

Eggs and vegetables – a nutritious mix

The project also supported families to keep hens for eggs and to grow their own vegetables. In just one year, we gave 20 chickens each to 217 families, a total of over 4,300 birds.

We also provided chicken feed, supplied materials to build coops and trained women to look after their birds. With each hen laying 70-80 eggs weekly, families can eat some eggs and sell the others. Through this, even families outside of the Red Cross programme can benefit. The money earned helps people buy other food or cover household expenses.

To help people grow their own vegetables, the project also provided seeds, tools, fencing materials and training to 189 men and their families. Each seed pack included a range of vegetables to help families get the different nutrients they need.

Our volunteer community group meetings helped people learn how to cook and eat the produce to improve families’ nutrition.

Grandmothers can change minds

In Afghanistan, men often make most of the family’s decisions. Women may not be able to choose whether to have check-ups while they are pregnant or where to give birth.

Grandmothers, though, are well respected in rural Afghan society so the project ran over 40 grandmothers’ clubs.

Women of all ages learned together about the importance of eating well and health care in pregnancy. Each grandmother could then influence her son to allow his wife and daughters to get medical help during pregnancy and birth.

The project has been so successful that the Afghan Red Crescent now runs similar projects in other provinces.