Establishing midwifery in low-resource settings: Guidance from a mixed-methods evaluation of the Afghanistan midwifery education program

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Background: the shortage of skilled birth attendants has been a key factor in the high maternal and newborn mortality in Afghanistan. Efforts to strengthen pre-service midwifery education in Afghanistan have increased the number of midwives from 467 in 2002 to 2954 in 2010.

Objective: we analyzed the costs and graduate performance outcomes of the two types of preservice midwifery education programs in Afghanistan that were either established or strengthened between 2002 and 2010 to guide future program implementation and share lessons learned.

Design: we performed a mixed-methods evaluation of selected midwifery schools between June 2008 and November 2010. This paper focuses on the evaluation’s quantitative methods, which included (a) an assessment of a sample of midwifery school graduates (n=138) to measure their competencies in six clinical skills; (b) prospective documentation of the actual clinical practices of a subsample of these graduates (n=26); and (c) a costing analysis to estimate the resources required to educate students enrolled in these programs.

Setting: for the clinical competency assessment and clinical practices components, two Institutes for Health Sciences (IHS) schools and six Community Midwifery Education (CME) schools; for the costing analysis, a different set of nine schools (2 IHS, 7 CME), all of which were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Participants: midwives who had graduated from either IHS or CME schools.

Findings: CME graduates (n=101) achieved an overall mean competency score of 63.2% (59.9%–66.6%) on the clinical competency assessment compared to 57.3% (49.9%–64.7%) for IHS graduates (n=37). Reproductive health activities accounted for 76% of midwives’ time over an average of three months. Approximately 1% of deliveries required referral or resulted in maternal death. Based on known costs for the programs, the estimated cost of graduating a class with 25 students averaged US$298,939, or US$10,784 per graduate.

Key conclusions: the pre-service midwifery education experience of Afghanistan can serve as a model to rapidly increase the number of skilled birth attendants. In such settings, it is important to ensure the provision of continued practice opportunities and refresher trainings after graduation to aid skill retention, a cooperative and supportive work environment that will use midwives for the reproductive health skills for which they were trained, and selection mechanisms that can identify the most promising students and post-graduation deployment options to maximize the return on the substantial educational investment.


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