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Overcoming Challenges In Accessing Healthcare for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

Establishing Small-Scale Maternity Center to Address the Sexual/Reproductive Needs of Adolescent Girls and Adult Women

Photo of Nuzhat Shaikh
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What specific problem(s) are you trying to address?

Pakistan hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, around, 1.6 million refugees, nearly all of them from Afghanistan. According to an August, 2017 article published in Dawn (a leading newspaper): “There is a high level of infant and maternal mortality rate" among Afghan refugees. Because of the communication barrier due to lingual differences Afghan refugee women are often rejected care and maternity services in conventional hospitals where they're treated as beggars. Founding a local maternity center run jointly by the skilled medical professionals and community leaders who speak Pashto or Dari to provide immediate healthcare and reproductive services may resolve this issue.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the problem(s) you are working to address?

How large of a infrastructure this could be in proportion to end users? Will there be a need for multiple small maternity centers or a single enough space can accommodate females in need of medical and other professional services?

Explain Your Idea

This idea if implemented will benefit hundreds of thousands of women and the whole country at large that is drowning in overpopulation. According to 2017 consensus, Pakistan's population increased fourfold and is now standing at 207.77 million people. It is high time, we target the adolescent girls for reproductive counselling while providing care to pregnant women and raise awareness in sexual health matters.

Name the three most important ways that your idea will address your identified problem(s).

Safe delivering of babies. Birth control. Raising sexual health awareness among adolescent girls to protect them from violence and harassment.

How is your idea unique?

No initiative of this kind (at least, in my knowledge) has been implemented in my country, as of yet.

What are some outstanding concerns or questions that you have regarding your idea?

Bringing about birth control. The Afghan refugees are uneducated and hardly give consideration to family planning. They live in poverty-stricken areas or camps and have limited knowledge of contraception let alone access to contraceptives. It remains a challenge to teach and/or convince women and girls of difficulties in raising a large family and to shift their focus on good parenting by sending kids to schools and in earning a dignified livelihood for themselves.

Who are your end users?

The end users are young/adult women and adolescent girls. The sound health of a woman ensures stability of a family, so the whole community benefits. There has to be safe/hygienic settings/spaces for women to deliver babies who otherwise deliver in unhygienic home-spaces with no immediate necessary care to mother or the child because of which the maternal and infant mortality rates rise. These live mostly in Peshawar, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The intervention will reach around 30,000 women and 5,000 adolescent girls who become pregnant unwanted. The maternity center can also become a hub for spreading awareness on protection from sexual harassment without stigmatization that might arise from an exclusively created network.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Pakistan

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Tell us more about the emergency setting that you intend to implement in

There could be infrastructure challenges.

Tell us more about you.

I'm a Biomedical Engineer and my team consists of mostly engineers from different backgrounds. We all have professional experiences in social or technical environments. I'm indeed looking for collaborators and partnerships mostly the trained medical professionals and healthcare providers. My ideas will be implemented in areas with increased population of Afghan refugee women and girls. My team is best suited because we're readers and known for our empathy. We're enthusiasts about women empowerment campaigns and actively participate in programs raising standards of living while also respecting human dignity. We're around 5-7 girls who are not shy to chant "women-for-women" slogans and 2-3 boys who truly support women causes.

Organizational Characteristics

  • Women-led organization
  • Indigenous-led organization
  • Displaced person / refugee-led organization
  • Locally/community-led organization
  • International/global organization

What is the current scale of your proposed innovation?

  • Still in planning phase and does not exist yet

Organization Location

Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the two provinces of Pakistan.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Nuzhat, thanks for participating in the Challenge! Even if you don't have a specific solution yet, don't forget to include how you might approach solving this challenge in the section about your Idea. Also would love to learn a little more about why you and your team why have you specially chosen this challenge and what makes you you uniquely qualified to tackle this issue?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Nuzhat Shaikh

Hi Ashley, Thanks for evaluating my idea and providing suggestions. Kindly read my updated answer. I hope that answers your question ref: having engineering background trained us to delving into problems and solving issues. As for the uniquely qualified, it is my association with the healthcare sector and an understanding of the overall problem with my worldly exposure.

Feel free to have as many questions. It only gets better!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Nuzhat, thanks for your answers. Would love to learn more what drew you to this issue specifically?

Photo of Nuzhat Shaikh

Hi Ashley, Thank you for asking me that. I've, actually, witnessed these drastic circumstances in my surroundings. First of all, the stigma associated with reproductive health discussions, that renders proper education almost impossible. People keep surviving on health-related myths and die with it. I've known women who died during childbirth, and known girls who were clueless about their own reproductive health (irregular cycles, heavy cycles, you name it), and they also suffered. Then there are girls who are forced into marriages in early teen years, thus, they also end up producing a line of kids. What inspired me to this is the simple understanding that if we want to help these women/girls and we can't go to them directly. Let them come to us, and from there we start the teaching programs. A kind of medium develops, if we possibly can make it a hub of fruitful discussions... (Check this recent article by a renowned author:

Feel free to ask anything else you have in mind. Thanks a lot!

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