Afghanistan among worst places for pregnant women, new UNICEF/US survey shows

Afghanistan among worst places for pregnant women, new UNICEF/US survey shows

In parts of Afghanistan women suffer from one of the world's highest levels of maternal mortality, with almost half of all deaths of those aged 15 to 49 resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, according to findings released today by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The surveys conducted by UNICEF and the CDC in four provinces found an average of 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births - a figure that suggests that Afghanistan may well be the worst place in the world for a woman to become pregnant.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the surveys - the largest of their kind ever conducted in Afghanistan - reveal an "ongoing humanitarian tragedy for Afghan women and children, one that needs to be publicized and overcome."

Ms. Bellamy noted that Taliban restrictions on women, coupled with 20 years of war, had dramatically set back women's health status. "With new leadership and ongoing assistance from the international community, Afghanistan has a prime opportunity to reverse this record, starting now," she said. "But investment in basic health care will only be beneficial to women if they are supported in accessing that care."

US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who recently visited Afghanistan, said his country "is committed to reversing these heartbreaking conditions and to helping restore health to the women and children in Afghanistan."

"It is terrible that women are dying in the act of giving birth," said UNICEF Representative Eric Laroche. "UNICEF is deeply committed to helping Afghanistan improve the health of women and children, and a key to progress is lowering maternal deaths."

In some remote regions, surveyors travelled house-to-house for several days on horseback to interview families about the deaths of women in their communities. The report examines data from 13,000 households, where family members provided information on an estimated 85,000 women. Families were asked about causes of death among women of reproductive age who died during the years 1999 to 2002.