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International Conference to Focus on Maternal, Infant Mortality

An international conference on maternal and child health opens June 7-9 in Washington. The two-day meeting is to explore ways to curb high child and maternal death rates in some countries through political, economic and cultural means. One country with a particularly high rate of maternal and child mortality is Afghanistan.

Qudratullah Mojadidi is an Afghan doctor in Obstetrics and Gynecology in Jacksonville, Florida, who travels to Afghanistan to provide his services to expecting mothers and children at the CURE International medical facility. Mojadidi says figures on child mortality rates in Afghanistan are devastating.

"The neonatal mortality -- neonatal mortality means from the birth to the first four weeks of life -- is 16 percent," Mojadidi said. "So, 16 percent of term infants will die before their fourth week's age. And that is just a devastating figure. Even if you go very conservative and divide that by half, still it is just about the highest in the world."

Common causes of early death

Mojadidi says the most common causes of early deaths in infants include infections, diarrheal diseases, and dehydration.

Dr. Christopher Murray, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, says Afghanistan also has one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates. He says Afghanistan's high fertility rate, lack of education for young women, and limited access to emergency obstetric services has raised the maternal mortality rate across the country.

"In terms of reducing the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan, it is about reducing fertility, it is about educating women, and it is about providing access to ante-natal care and emergency obstetrical services," Murray said. "And to do that, I think given the circumstances that are present in Afghanistan, probably development assistance for health is going to be an important part of funding those expanded reproductive health services."

Situation in Afghanistan

Mojadidi agrees. He is particularly critical of the conditions of many of the health-care facilities in Afghanistan.

"I have really advised patients not to go to some of the hospitals because they would rather be at home and be a lot safer than go into the hospitals and play a high risk in losing their lives or becoming morbid," he said. "It is just that bad because the quality of the healthcare, particularly the quality of the health providers, is so bad that it is incredible."

Family planning key

Mojadidi says family planning is key to improving maternal health.

"If you look at the world figures, the cheapest, the easiest and the fastest way to reduce the maternal mortality rate by up to 50 percent is implementing a very effective, massive family planning in the country," Mojadidi said. "If you do family planning, not only do you have healthy mothers, but you have healthy children and then of course, you have a healthy society and healthy future."

Mojadidi says many mothers do not know how to care for themselves and their children in an effective way. Compounding the problem, he says, poor infrastructure makes it difficult for women to travel to see their doctors, and health-care facilities lack equipment and trained personnel. Mojadidi says educating women in health care and improvements in infrastructure and medical facilities are all crucial to curbing the high rate of child and maternal mortality in Afghanistan.