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Image: Maternal health
 Photo: Malin Lager (SAK)
Photo: Malin Lager (SAK)

Maternal health

Complications in pregnancy or childbirth are still the cause of death for 1 out of 32 Afghan women. Bringing skilled help to remote areas saves many women’s lives.

Easily preventable tragedies

Many lives could be saved if more Afghan women saw skilled medical staff during pregnancy.Maternal mortality has fallen significantly in the past years but 1 of every 32 Afghan women still dies of pregnancy-related causes. Often their deaths could have been avoided had the mother only seen a trained health worker who could have recognised the symptoms of common complications, such as pre-eclampsia. 

Health conditions that are common in Afghanistan can make pregnancy and birth more dangerous for the mother-to-be. Women who suffer from anemia due to malnutrition are more vulnerable to bleeding during and after birth. Something as simple as iron supplements could save many women’s lives. 

Much has been done - but much is left

Afghanistan has come a long way toward achieving the UN’s millennium development goal to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters. Maternal mortality has fallen from 1300 deaths per 100.000 live births in 1990, to 460 deaths in 2010. Although the success must be applauded, we should keep in mind that Afghanistan’s starting point was the absolute highest maternal mortality rate in the world. And the country is still far from reaching the other half of the goal: to achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Around two thirds of all Afghan children are born away from healthcare facilities. Of these, over a third is born without the presence of trained health personnel. Distance and transport challenges, security threats and poverty are the most common reasons that women give for not consulting professional help during pregnancy and birth. Since most Afghans live far away from cities and roads are often blocked for months during wintertime, a part of the solution must be to increase the availability of midwives in the rural areas, where people are.

Awareness campaigns work

Cultural barriers and a lack of reliable information are also a hindrance for women’s health and wellbeing. 40% of those women who did not seek trained help during pregnancy said it was because they did not
Embroidered information campaign on reproductive health. Photo: NAC/Elisabet Eikås.think it was necessary. Others did not go because they could not get a male relative to go with them, as is widespread custom in Afghan society, or because there were no female healthcare professionals in their area.

NAC works actively to increase the awareness of how important skilled healthcare is in pregnancy and birth. The results show that awareness campaigns work. When working in a culturally sensitive manner, one can even approach  important subjects that are considered taboo, such as the benefits of family planning for maternal health. The education of girls and women in general is also an important factor in reducing maternal mortality, significantly more important than the economy of the family. 


Afghanistan mortality survey 2010, by Afghan Public Health Institute, Ministry of Public Health (APHI/MoPH) [Afghanistan], Central Statistics Organization (CSO) [Afghanistan], ICF Macro, Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) [India], and World Health Organization Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO/EMRO) [Egypt]

UNICEF, statistics on Afghanistan

Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
Addresse:  Nawai Watt, Street # 03 •  Postal addresse:
work # 148 Shahr-i-Naw, KabulAfghanistan

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