Afghanistan | News | The Ministry of Public Health and UN partners call for greater efforts to step up gender equality

The Ministry of Public Health and UN partners call for greater efforts to step up gender equality

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Midwife Tamana works at a WHO-supported health centre in a camp for internally displaced persons in KabulMidwife Tamana works at a WHO-supported health centre in a camp for internally displaced persons in Kabul9 March 2016, Kabul – The Ministry of Public Health, together with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners, celebrated International Women’s Day at an event held in Kabul today. Ministry officials, health care providers and civil society organizations highlighted women’s crucial contributions to improving health care in Afghanistan while calling for action to step up gender equality and increase the number of women working in the health sector.

The Ministry of Public Health emphasized the need to recruit more women into the health workforce in all roles to strengthen health service management and delivery and promote equitable access to health care. “Women make vital contributions to the strategies and plans of the Ministry of Public Health and to the delivery of health services. The Ministry remains committed to the equal rights of girls and women to receive quality healthcare at all stages of their lives. Increasing women’s participation in all roles in the health sector at all levels is a key priority that is also emphasized in Afghanistan’s new National Health Strategy and Policy for 2016–2020,” said H.E. Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, Minister of Public Health.

Afghan women’s health indicators, specifically on sexual and reproductive health, are among the lowest globally. Gender-based violence is a pervasive problem, causing devastating effects for women’s physical, reproductive and mental health. Gender inequality in decision-making and women’s restricted mobility hamper women’s access to health services and information with which to make informed decisions about their health. The lack of female healthcare workers also forms a barrier for women’s equal access to health care. Only around 53% of rural clinics in Afghanistan have a female physician.

“There is a dire need to recruit more female health workers and professionals into all roles and levels of the health sector. We need to invest more in improving and enforcing fair and equitable recruitment and retention policies for health care workers,” said Dr Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Country Representative in Afghanistan. “Discrimination and harassment remain challenges that must be urgently tackled. Women must be encouraged and supported to apply for work in the health sector and we must ensure safe and respectful workplaces for everyone. Employing women in the health sector brings better health and well-being for all.”

Afghanistan faces severe shortage of female health workers. Out of Afghanistan’s 5858 doctors only 22% are currently women, and women comprise 21% of the country’s 5599 nurses. Currently 11 037 women community health workers provide essential basic health services and health education to women around Afghanistan. However, only 3% of 958 community health supervisors are women.

“UNFPA is committed to supporting the Ministry to increase the presence of female health workers in both service delivery and in management of health sector. This is a challenge as long as barriers for girls’ education and participation exist. One of the key barriers is child marriage which is prevalent in Afghanistan but under-documented. Globally, every day 37 000 girls under 18 years of age are forced into marriage that is denying their fundamental human rights. Girls need to be educated so they will be able to add to the number of female health workers. We, therefore, need to end child marriage,” said Dr Bannet Ndyanabangi, UNFPA representative.

Some steps to address gender balance in the health sector include community midwifery education at the Zawul Institute of Higher Education and at Kabul Medical University to improve reproductive health outcomes. The Ministry of Public Health family health houses and family protection centres provide essential health services for women and support the goal of increased educational and employment opportunities for women.

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Key health-related statistics

Population (m) 29.7
Health expenditure (% of GDP) 9.5
Adult (15+) literacy rate (%) 34.8
Life expectancy at birth F/M (2010) 63.2-63.6

Sources: Central Statistics office, Afghanistan National health Accounts, Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey, Afghanistan mortality survey. 

Framework for health information systems and core indicators for monitoring health situation and health system performance, 2018

Afghanistan country health profile

Regional Health Observatory

WHO Afghanistan Programme Overview 

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