UN Report on Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan

I couldn’t help but share this report from the United Nations on the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan. I thought the most interesting factor is that there are 25 times more deaths due to maternal mortality than there are security related deaths. It goes to show that despite the unstable security environment in Afghanistan, there are more far reaching issues to address. Here is the report:

New York, 5 March (AKI) . Some 24,000 Afghan women die every year while giving birth, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which is working with the Afghan government and other partners to reduce maternal mortality and improve the overall health of women and girls in the war-torn nation. “The biggest challenge that Afghan women face is maternal health and high maternal mortality,” Ramesh Penumaka, UNFPA Country Representative in Afghanistan, told journalists in Kabul on Tuesday. Penumaka noted that 1,600 out of every 100,000 women that give birth die in the process. “That is a staggering 24,000 a year, about 25 times the number of people dying of security-related violent incidents,” he stated. The reasons why so many Afghan women die while giving birth range from early marriage – more than half the girls are married before they are 18 – and lack of health facilities and skilled birth attendants to lack of education. Noting some of the progress made in recent years, Penumaka said that there are today 16,000 community health workers & a sizeable increase in number of institutions training midwives.

Last year, 30 percent of pregnant women received some kind of attention from a health professional, up from only 4 percent in 2001. And while only 6 percent of deliveries were conducted by a skilled attendant in 2001, that number was 80 percent last year. “The progress made is significant but nowhere near sufficient,” he stated, noting that 40 percent of mothers do not have access to an emergency obstetric care service and not all women have access to skilled birth attendants. UNFPA is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on a joint programme for maternal mortality reduction. It is also helping the Ministry of Public Health to develop action plans for maternal health and emergency obstetric care, increase the number of skilled birth attendants, and train doctors and midwives. As the problems relating to maternal health cannot be tackled by women alone, UNFPA is also working with men who have a vital role to play in ensuring the health and well-being of their mothers, sisters and wives. In addition, in cooperation with UNIFEM and other agencies, UNFPA is working to eliminate violence against women, which affects 80 percent of women at some time in their lives, according to Penumaka.

“This is a major challenge that all of us need to confront, and especially those of us who are men.” Ziad Sheikh, Deputy Director at UNIFEM Afghanistan, drew attention to the recent establishment of a special fund for the elimination of violence against women, an initiative undertaken in partnership with UN partner agencies, the donor community and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The special fund will be formally launched on 8 March, which is observed annually as International Women’s Day. In a related development, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has received a 13 million dollar grant from Japan to help improve literacy in AFG, which has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. The grant will enable UNESCO to help almost 600,000 AFG in 18 provinces who cannot read or write through its Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) programme.


  1. Sarah Joy on April 2, 2008 at 4:38 am

    What a shocking and tragic report… I wonder if there is a group Midwives without Borders?! I’m glad to hear that new Afghani midwives are being trained up.

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