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Report:  Afghanistan Has Highest Maternal Mortality Rate - 2002-11-07


A new survey conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that Afghan women have one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world. The U.S. Secretary of Health announced that the United States will create new clinics to tackle the crisis.

CDC Doctor, Linda Bartlett, presented the dismal findings to reporters. In Afghanistan, 48 percent, nearly half of all deaths among women of child-bearing age, are caused by pregnancy or childbirth. "Overall, in Afghanistan, maternal mortality is very very high and in remote areas it is catastrophically high," says Dr. Bartlett.

In rural areas, such as the region of Badakshan, 65-percent of all women's deaths are due to maternal causes. In cities, including Kabul, the rate is 16-percent. CDC and UNICEF researchers reached their conclusion following Interviews about the death of an estimated 85,000 women throughout four Afghan provinces, including areas only reachable by horseback.

They found that most of the deaths were caused by bleeding during childbirth or so-called obstructed labor, which are easily preventable with modern medicine. However, Afghan women often die because they do not have the transportation to reach medical facilities or because clinics are ill-equipped to save their lives.

The CDC's Dr. Bartlett says the deaths have a ripple effect on Afghan families and new-born. "One important finding which we measured in this study was the survival of newborns who were born to mothers who died," she says. "Of the mothers who gave birth before they died, 75-percent of their newborns also died after their mother, mostly within the first few weeks of life, due to acute dehydration and malnutrition due to lack of breast milk."

U.S. Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson, who recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, describes the findings as both shocking and "heart-breaking." Secretary Thompson says that the U.S. Department of Health is working with the Department of State and the Department of Defense to open a medical clinic in Kabul for women and children within 90-days. He says that Afghan ex-patriots, who practice medicine in the United States, are being recruited to train Afghans in the clinic. "We are hoping to be able to use those individuals along with our professionals from the Department of Health and Human services to staff it," he says. "And at the same time to teach, take care of the mothers and children in a particular community but also to teach courses such as midwifery so that other Afghani women will be able to learn how to deliver children safely and how to provide for good nutrition so that children and mothers do not die in childbirth.

Secretary Thompson says that the United States plans to set up additional clinics, which are expected to cost about one-million dollars each, in every Afghan province.

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