Sunday, February 11, 2007

One to Watch: Motherland Afghanistan

In Motherland Afghanistan, filmaker Sedika Mojadidi follows her OB/GYN father to Afghanistan to witness his work in a Kabul maternity ward (once the Rabia Balkhi maternity women's hospital, renamed the Laura Bush Maternity Ward). Dr. Mojadidi was asked by the U.S. Government to help rehabilitate post-Taliban Rabi Balkhi in 2003, and the film documents the doctor's frustration and lack of support (including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's failure to supply the promise basic medical supplies and equipment), and the resulting difficulties in providing medical care for Afghanistan's women. As the piece reports, Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with a 2000 survey finding 1,600 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. In the same year, only 10% of Afghanistan's clinics were equipped to perform c-sections, and 2/3rds could not provide basic reproductive health services. According to World Health Organization statistics from 2000, only Sierra Leone experiences more maternal deaths (2,000 per 100,000 live births). By comparison, the United States experienced only 16 deaths per 100,000 live births. While some estimates disagree on the exact numbers, the rate of maternal mortality in Afghanistan is nonetheless extremely high.

Motherland Afghanistan makes real the problems of a broken healthcare system that cannot provide enough trained doctors, infrastructure, or knowledge to properly care of the nation's pregnant women. Alongside images of the Afghanistan landscape and insight into the culture and social climate, the documentary presents startling images of broken, overflowing sinks, filthy toilets, patients bringing their own medical supplies, and other scenes from a hospital on the edge of ruin. It also presents up-close encounters with the women affected by this lack of care. Yet when Dr. Mojadidi complains to the HHS that they have not fulfilled their promises to send money and supplies, he receives in return only a letter congratulating him on his good works. The doctor eventually leaves the country in frustration.

Two years later, in 2005, the filmmaker once again follows her father to Afghanistan, this time to an NGO-sponsored medical facility. While conditions are better there, the doctors, patients, and families still face extraordinary hurdles in providing even the most basic care. One baby is born prematurely at 7 months; in the U.S. the baby might survive, but in this facility with no incubators, where the baby is fed milk via a spoon, the chances of a good outcome are strikingly lower. The film also highlights the problem of fistula, an injury that can occur when emergency care is not available to laboring women, resulting in a hole between the bladder and vagina or rectum and vagina. One woman has seemingly suffered from this problem, with urine leaking from her bladder into her vagina and down her legs, for 8 months before receiving care.

The features shown on Independent Lens are typically informative and moving, and this documentary is no exception. Motherland Afghanistan is an eye-opening and worthwhile look at the state of reproductive health care in Afghanistan. Visit the website and see these selected resources to further explore this topic.

Motherland Afghanistan can be seen this week on Tuesday, February 13th as the Independent Lens broadcast on your local public television station. [search for showtimes]

Thanks to itvs for provision of a screener copy of the film.

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