Zaghrona Sabet (center) and her classmates
Kabul, Afghanistan – At age 40, Zaghrona Sabet is embarking on a career.
She has decided to become a midwife, not a small thing in this conservative society where a mother of four is expected to be at home. Zaghrona will spend the next 18 months in a classroom, learning about maternal and newborn health and acquiring the clinical skills to save lives.
Zaghrona’s career choice has as much to do with personal experience as her desire to become one of the “white coats.” During Afghanistan’s civil war, Sabet and her husband moved to Pakistan, where they began their family. Although she had access to skilled care, unlike many women during those troubled times, Zaghrona says her birth experience in a local hospital was a confusing whirlwind. “No one explained the procedure for normal delivery. I was given an injection and no one explained to me what I was getting.”
Since her return to Kabul, Zaghrona says she has wanted to become a midwife so she can ensure women in Afghanistan have the skilled care they deserve. And there’s a more personal reason for her career choice: “In Afghanistan, all people respect the doctors and midwives who wear the white coat.”
Zaghrona is among a group of 52 women, many right out of high school, who are attending the Asia Medical Institute, a midwifery school recently established at the private Kabul International Hospital, a 50-bed facility under new management and with ambitions to provide 21st century care. The school reflects the increasing popularity of midwifery as a profession for young women in Afghanistan.
Although the Asia Medical Institute has yet to receive accreditation, the class is full. The curriculum is based on national midwifery standards and the school’s two teachers are graduates of government-run midwifery schools.
On a recent day, the students are learning how to take a physical history and the components of prenatal care. A visitor asks why they wanted to become midwives. A show of hands appears and several of the students speak up:
As you know, the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan is very high. We are training to be expert medical midwives.
I remember my mother was pregnant. There was no good care in Takhar [a province in northeast Afghanistan]. There was no transport for her. We lost the baby.
My mother wanted to be a midwife. One of her wishes is for me to finish this midwifery class.
I am disabled. My mother says I got this problem during delivery. I want to be able to take care of all mothers and their babies.