26 April 2021 marked the inaugural graduation ceremony for the first batch of 95 female Health Social Counselors (HSCs) in Kabul and Kandahar through the Ghazanfar Institute of Health Science. The first of its type in Afghanistan, this two-year diploma programme was organized by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), with financial support from the Global Fund via the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Mental health problems are the consequence of four decades of conflict, political instability, and economic crisis. These HSCs will be deployed across Afghanistan to address mental and social problems, with a focus on women’s issues in relation to HIV/AIDS, TB, sexually-transmitted infections, domestic violence, as well as other women issues that carry stigma in Afghan society.
“This project will test the feasibility, assess the effectiveness, and provide the evidence to justify further support for scaling-up of proposed health professionals,” said Ms. Iolanda Fortes, Programme Manager for the Global Fund Program at UNDP Afghanistan.
“In principle, the provision of counseling services to women and girls in rural areas addresses a widely acknowledged critical need and should provide justification for further expansion. Efforts will be made to include people living with HIV as HSCs to emphasize their role in HIV/AIDS prevention. Female HSCs will be addressing stigma associated with HIV and TB and directly addressing the social barriers limiting access to care for women and girls.”
HSC training is organized in line with the HRH Policy 2014-2018, which emphasizes the training, deployment, and retention of a gender-balanced healthcare workforce to deliver affordable, equitable health services across Afghanistan. The MoPH has recognized the urgent shortage of female health professionals, though previous efforts by the European Union (EU) and NGOs to train female HSCs have been unable to satisfy demand to date.
Following deployment, these HSCs are expected to serve as a public model to involve women in social affairs by filling critical vacant positions in community-based programmes and organizations. Such positions include roles in the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS), Anti-Retroviral Therapy Centers, Voluntary Counseling and Confidential Testing Centers, Sexual- and Gender-based Violence Programmes, Drop-In Centers, and Family Health Houses of the MoPH. These female HSCs may also have further opportunities to serve in other Ministries and with women’ NGOs.
Once this programme is proven effective, it is expected that other stakeholders will sustain the Global Fund initiative to increase the number of HSCs to be trained, as well as their subsequent deployment to underserved communities.
UNDP is committed to work alongside the government of Afghanistan and its sister UN agencies along with other partners. Through this “One United Nations” approach, the UNDP seeks to address social and economic determinants through a comprehensive approach of policy, programme, and capacity development support to ensure equal rights and access to services for all – leaving no one behind.
This programme is generously funded by the Global Fund, to accelerate the end of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria as epidemics. As an international organization, the Global Fund mobilizes and invests more than US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in more than 100 countries. In partnership with governments, civil society, technical agencies, the private sector, and people affected by the diseases, we are challenging barriers and embracing innovation.