Submitted by Sally Cooper,
Communications and Knowledge Exchange Officer at USAID Tech-Serve

Women gather outside a health clinic in the western city of Herat. Dr.Zareena’s work with USAID Tech-Serve supports the Ministry of Public Health in providing quality health care to women across Afghanistan. Photo: Sally Cooper, USAID Tech-Serve

Dr. Zareena sits quietly at her desk in the corner of a large office, her attention focused on the files open on the laptop screen in front of her. “We are very busy here today,” she said, adding with a smile, “actually we are very busy here most days.”

Zareena works at Tech-Serve, a USAID-funded project building capacity at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). She works with health professionals at MoPH offices in USAID-supported provinces throughout the country, building their capacity to enable them to deliver quality health services for all Afghans. As part of a team looking after 17 provinces, Zareena’s days are full.

As a child growing up in Kabul through the years of the Russian occupation and the bloody civil war that followed, she recalls her family moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, escaping the fighting and seeking occasional refuge with relatives living in the provinces when the capital became too chaotic.

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 re-opened a world of opportunities for young women like Zareena. After finishing school, with her family’s permission, she enrolled in the prestigious Kabul Medical University to pursue a career in health care. She was the first girl in her family to study, a choice that brought with it a raft of social pressures. “It was different,” she said, “but it was not wrong.”

After graduation, Zareena said, “I wanted to work in health and learn more.” She worked for a number of health-focused organizations, gaining valuable experience in each before joining Tech-Serve.

One area in which she is particularly interested is Tech-Serve’s leadership and management program which works with public health managers around the country to enable them to lead their teams, face challenges and achieve results. “It encourages me to develop my career in management so I can work for better health of women and all patients,” said Zareena.

Afghanistan has rebuilt its public health system from scratch in the last decade. More women are accessing quality health care than ever before for both themselves and their families. Progress has been slow but, as Zareena notes, “progress has been made. The health of mother and child is better than it was even three years ago.” In 2010, seventy five percent of Afghans seeking health care services were women and children under the age of 5.

But in 2011, Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain. Political tensions and a revived insurgency eat away at many of the gains made in the past decade, particularly for the country’s women. Asked what she thinks Afghanistan will be like in three years, Zareena shrugs. “I wish a brighter situation than today. We see the reality but we shouldn’t lose our courage.” She turns once more to her computer screen, “this is our hope.”

Technical Support to the Central and Provincial Ministry of Public Health (Tech-Serve) is implemented by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health and Management Sciences for Health.  Dr. Zareena’s name has been changed to maintain her privacy.