Afghanistan: Imagining a Different Perspective

Betina is a neonatal nurse, who has recently finished her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan…

There is a lot that can be said about firsts, especially if your very first assignment with MSF is in Afghanistan. I was only stationed there for one month, which I came to know in project-terms is very little, but I learned a lot and did as much as I could.

There is one story I would like to share with you. It's about one of the patients I treated during my month on the neonatal ward, and I've tried to imagine how she would tell it...

''I’m a little girl born too early for my time at 32 weeks. I heard the doctors saying that I have been through a lot. I had difficulty in breathing on my own, I had infection with a few different courses of antibiotics. They almost thought that my bowels were dying when my tummy blew up and I couldn’t eat. And that’s just to name a few. I thought being a baby would be much easier than this!

Today was the day I was meant to be born, after spending 39 weeks in my mom’s tummy. Instead, my mom and two of my caretakers have been taking turns to feed me, change me, hold me and sit in a chair in front of me for the past 53 days.

I depend on concentrated oxygen and that’s the biggest reason why I can’t go home yet. Earlier this week I took my first trip outside the hospital, 50 metres down the street, to have an X-ray taken of my chest. 

It was cold and shaky on the way there and back, but I got to breathe different air. The air in my country is very polluted; that doesn't make my breathing any easier.

image shows low pressure oxygen condensor

The oxygen I was dependent on. Photo: Betina Austin / MSF

My doctor said that after looking at my X-ray, my chest and heart look fine. All they can do now is wait and maybe try some chest physiotherapy. The foreign nurse had the idea of using a ventilation mask as a percussion device – tapping it on my chest to help clear my lungs. She demonstrated on me to the other nurses. Oh, it felt so nice!! I could breathe better and after two days of physiotherapy I could breathe without oxygen for almost five hours.

To you physiotherapy might sound easy, but my body is so small that it really uses all of my energy and strength just to practise breathing, something so simple that you have been doing it unconsciously while reading my story.

image shows the baby having chest physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy using an oxygen mask. Photo: Betina Austin / MSF

After three sessions of physiotherapy I could go a whole day without oxygen. I was getting there, slowly, but surely. My family was looking forward to taking me home.

I haven’t need to go back on oxygen again, and today, after just five session of chest physio, my doctor decided that I could finally go home. My family and I are so excited. I might not know much as I am so small, but I know that life should not be taken for granted.”


This story is only one example of how MSF can play a major role in sending babies home to their families. And every time we do, who knows? We may be saving a future astronaut, or president, or even a dancer or a devoted dad. The team work incredibly hard to try to ensure that each baby has the chance of a future that could be shaped and colored in any possible way. MSF gives life and that’s why it feels an honor to be a part of it!