Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Women’s Rights

How the Taliban are destroying female doctors in Afghanistan

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 08 March 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p519

Linked Opinion

Girls’ education and the future of healthcare in Afghanistan

  1. Sally Howard, journalist,
  2. Geetanjali Krishna, journalist
  1. London and Delhi
  1. indiastoryagency{at}

Female doctors are disappearing following Taliban bans. That’s bad news for a country where primary healthcare is on the verge of collapse. SallyHowardandGeetanjaliKrishna report

Maria Zubair, a third year female medical student in Jalalabad who aspires to general practice, has been unable to attend classes since 18 December 2022 when the Taliban suspended university education for women.1 “The day after the ban we found that the door to the hospital was blocked for women students by Taliban forces,” she says. Her training hospital has told students that they are “bound by Taliban rules” and that female students are no longer allowed to cross the threshold to the hospital.

Following this stricture, on 24 December 2022, the Taliban also barred female employees of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from coming to work. The move, although not unexpected, has thrown the global health NGOs that have been at the forefront of the country’s public-private healthcare delivery model (see box) into disarray. Initially, several, including Afghanaid, CARE International International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief, Norwegian Refugee Council, and Save the Children—organisations long associated with the delivery of primary healthcare services in Afghanistan—decided to suspend operations.

“We cannot effectively reach children, women, and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, and CARE International said in a joint statement.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) “strongly condemned” the Islamic Emirate’s erasure of women from social life in the country. “More than 51% of our medical staff are women,” said Filipe Ribeiro, MSF country representative in Afghanistan, on the ban. “Nearly 900 female doctors, nurses, and other professionals strive every day to give thousands of Afghans the best care possible. MSF operations couldn’t exist without them.”

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