An unlikely dream becomes reality

Lily J. Lawrence

2008-08-05

Dr. Spojmai has taken care of residents here for more than a decade, through war, drought and political turmoil.

“Taliban, mujahideen, it’s not important to me – I don’t like politics. I’m a doctor. I work to help sick people,” Spojmai says. “I’ve dreamed of being a doctor since I was a little girl.”

There is just one other female doctor in the province, but in the past there were none at all. That is partly why she first came to Kunar in 1996.

“I came here for several reasons,” she explains. “My husband is from Kunar and we wanted to be here. Also, there were no professional doctors in Kunar, especially not female ones, and the people needed help. I wanted to serve the people.”

By 1996, conditions in Kunar were terrible. Chaos reigned as mujahideen factions fought one another and thousands of people fled to Pakistan.

“There were no proper doctors in Kunar and the people really needed help,” she said.

So she and her husband moved there and got to work.

“When I came to Kunar there was no female section in the hospital. It was so dangerous for me and for the patients. We made a female section. The head of the hospital was a mullah, not a professional man,” Spojmai explains.

Then she says, “I worked for 3 or 4 hours during the day, and then patients came to my home. I worked regularly at the hospital, but the salary was very low. Then the Taliban came. It was so dangerous for the people, terrible. But the Taliban also knew we need female doctors here, so they allowed me to stay.”

Patients flocked to the hospital from every district of Kunar.

“The Taliban didn’t allow people to come at night, but I came here to the hospital to give them prescriptions.” More than 50 women came each day seeking help, and she struggled to tend to them all. Outside organisations offered much-needed assistance, but they faced their own challenges.

“AMI [a French medical organisation] came in 1996 and began supporting the health system with higher salaries and improved facilities. But after a year, the Taliban arrested an expatriate staff member and AMI pulled its programme from Kunar.”

Spojmai was alone again with one midwife. There were male doctors working there fulfilling duties that women normally fill, “acting as midwives, in the maternity section,” but most men refuse to allow their wives to be seen by a male doctor.

“For Kunar people it’s not possible for women to see a male doctor, so many women suffered at home alone instead,” she said.

The roads were also terrible, preventing many people from making the trip.

Conditions have improved drastically since those days. After the fall of the Taliban, many organisations came to help and health care is now available in all districts. The Ministry of Health, Kunar’s Provincial Reconstruction Team and AMI are all working together to advance the health care system in Kunar.

“When I came here there was nothing for the people. I’m so happy that now we have professional doctors and good equipment.” She continues, “Now I feel much better about the situation here. When I first came there was nothing, no equipment. Now we have 23 clinics throughout the districts, all with a female maternity care section. We have 2 female doctors in Asadabad, 6 midwives, 3 health workers and 2 vaccinators – all female. It’s enough now. But one more female doctor would be good.”

Spojmai also added, “In the past we couldn’t get any trained women from Kunar to work, so Pakistani women came and worked.

“We need support from families so they will allow their daughters to study,” says Dr. Spojmai. “We talk with families all the time, and tell them not to prevent their daughters from going to school.”

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