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World Refugee Day: Alumnus managing humanitarian response for Afghan women refugees in Pakistan

Posted: 19 June 2020

Pakistan, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year and is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees around the globe. On this day, we highlight the efforts of Australia Awards alumnus Rasheed Ahmed, who is ensuring continuity of sexual and reproductive health services during the COVID-19 crisis for Afghan refugee women and girls living in remote areas of Pakistan.

Rasheed is a public health specialist with more than 13 years’ experience in planning and managing public health programs during humanitarian crises. Currently, he is working for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Pakistan as a Humanitarian Program Analyst. Rasheed planned and implemented the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)-funded integrated Sexual and Reproductive Health – Gender-Based Violence project for Afghan refugees and host communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. He is currently involved in planning, implementing, and managing the COVID-19 response, with a particular focus on ensuring continuity of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence information and services for women and girls.

For UNFPA Pakistan’s frontline health workers, one of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 crisis was to ensure continuity of their humanitarian efforts for Afghan women refugees living in remote areas of Pakistan. Rasheed was able to overcome this challenge by providing personal protective equipment and training on infection prevention and control to these workers, so that they can continue to deliver services in Afghan refugee camps without interruption.

As a direct result of Rasheed’s efforts to protect the frontline workforce, UNFPA-planned sexual and reproductive health services at the DFAT-funded health facility have been able to continue unaffected. In Balochistan, this is reflected in the fact that there were 194 and 181 standard deliveries by skilled birth attendants in December and January respectively (before the first confirmed appearance of COVID-19 in Pakistan) and an average of 184 per month between February and May 2020 (after the virus reached the country). Other key indicators of reproductive health have remained similarly consistent before and during the pandemic.

Australia Awards alumnus, Dr Rasheed Ahmed

Rasheed completed his Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne in Australia after receiving an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2015.

“My experience in Australia was transformative. The education I received increased my ability to undertake critical thinking and analysis. This newfound skill is helping me do my job better,” he says.

After completing his study in Australia and returning to Pakistan, Rasheed started working with the Agha Khan Development Network and developed a social franchising model for community midwives working in remote mountains in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. He was also the first person in Pakistan to create and implement a plan to mainstream reproductive health services for Afghan women refugees through upgrading and strengthening existing public health systems.

While working in Balochistan for UNFPA, he facilitated and established a public-private partnership between the Population Welfare Department and People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI). Through this partnership, the Department has supported 652 PPHI health facilities with free contraceptive commodities for family planning. This has greatly increased the geographic reach and coverage of family planning services. Under the same partnership, the Department offered PPHI underutilised mobile service units that allowed mobile health interventions to be extended from basic health units to Afghan refugee camps.

Rasheed also introduced a Hub & Spoke Model for PPHI in Balochistan, which is a cost-effective and efficient way to serve remote populations through rational allocation of resources, especially to address the lack of female health workers. The model also introduced two-way referrals for reproductive-health-related complications.

“My immediate plan is to engage in high level advocacy with the Government of Balochistan to scale up the Hub & Spoke Model to other remote areas and districts in the province,” says Rasheed.

Through mobilising more resources, Rasheed is planning to expand and further mainstream reproductive health services for Afghan refugees living in camps and within host communities that are not currently covered by Pakistan’s reproductive health services.