International Cooperation and Development

Afghan doctor helps Pakistani women

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Saleema Rehman, 28, poses for a portrait at the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Saleema is a refugee from Afghanistan and is completing her medical studies to become the first female Turkmen doctor in the country.  

As an Afghan refugee growing up in a Turkmen community in Pakistan, 28-year-old Saleema has faced a lifetime of barriers in her quest to get an education. Now, after nearly 3 decades of study, she is beating the odds and is set to become the first ever female Turkmen refugee doctor.

I have a duty to help women. I want to help them get better.
- Dr Saleema Rehman, Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Saleema treats mothers and their babies at Holy Family Hospital, Pakistan
Saleema treats mothers and their babies at Holy Family Hospital, Pakistan. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Saleema's sense of duty to helping women patients led her to specialise in gynecology. Every day she delivers around 5 babies at Rawalpindi’s Holy Family Hospital and cares for 40 women in each ward, many of whom live in poverty. Treatment is free. However, there are 2 patients for every bed and she works long shifts to attend to them all.

Her father Abdul, who fled Afghanistan at the age of 13, has supported her and others for years – working two jobs, opening local schools and advocating for girls’ education – until eventually Saleem won a scholarship that opened the doors to her medical career. Pakistan currently hosts over 1.4 million (mostly Afghan) refugees. She is considered the first Afghan refugee woman of Turkmen descent to ever become a doctor.

Saleema with a patient at Holy Family Hospital
Saleema examines a patient at Holy Family Hospital. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Saleema's contributions to Turkmen women are particularly significant, providing medical services to those in her community and who speak her language. In her community in Attock, Punjab, where she grew up and where her family resides, an increasing number of girls are being sent to schools as a result of her success.

A refugee ‘doctor for all patients’ in Pakistan

The project ‘Support for Afghan Refugees in Iran and Pakistan, and for returnees and internally displaced persons in Afghanistan’ is a 3 year multi-donor action running between July 2018 and July 2021, with a total budget of €52 million, and with an EU contribution of €34 million.