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Young Afghan women train as midwives to serve in remote villages

In a small village surrounded by velvety snow-capped mountains in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province, Aziza Rahimi mourns the baby she lost last year after a harrowing birth without medical care.

“It was too hard for me when I lost my baby. As a mother, I nursed the baby in my womb for nine months, but then I lost it. It’s too painful,” says 35-year-old Rahimi.

The rugged and remote beauty of Bamiyan’s Foladi Valley village poses deadly barriers for pregnant mothers.

However, a potentially life-saving improvement is on the way. Rahimi’s village is one of several near Bamiyan that have sent 40 young women to the provincial capital to train as midwives for two years, after which they will return home.

Isolation can become a death sentence in any difficult delivery, doctors and aid workers say, contributing to Afghanistan’s extremely high maternal and infant mortality rates, which are among the worst in the world.

The United Nations estimates that an Afghan woman dies every two hours during pregnancy or childbirth, making Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate the highest in Asia.

The midwives-in-training program is run by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in partnership with the Watan Social and Technical Services Association, a local charity. They hope to expand the program to other provinces.

Since taking over in 2021, Taliban authorities have banned women from universities and most charity jobs, but have made exceptions in health care and UNHCR says local health authorities are supporting the project.