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UNICEF and partners come together to help reduce maternal mortality in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2007
New programmes and partnerships are being launched in Afghanistan to help ensure that newborns like this one will be able to grow up with their mothers.

By Fawad Sahil

KABUL, Afghanistan, 2 April 2007  One in nine Afghan women dies during or shortly after pregnancy, accounting for one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Kabul’s Malalai Maternity Hospital, one of the busiest in Afghanistan delivering 80 to 100 babies a day, is working to ensure that more women live to see their children grow up.

Since the fall of Taliban in 2001, UNICEF has provided much-needed support to this hospital through facility renovation, capacity building, training for doctors and midwives and providing supplies and medicine. They have also instituting a wide-ranging safe motherhood information campaign in collaboration with community groups.

The hospital is an important training centre, where obstetric care providers become master trainers and in turn help to upgrade the obstetric skills of hundreds of doctors and midwives across the country.

"This support has had significant impact on pregnant women and has saved so many lives," says Dr. Mirafzoon Meher Nisar of the Maternity Unit.

‘A right to the best medical facilities’

In 2007, the Maternity Waiting Home (MWH) project was launched in six provinces of Afghanistan. MWH’s are residential facilities located near medical centres that provide comprehensive obstetric care. Here women can receive prenatal care including immunizations and education on health and hygiene practices and can give birth in a home-like environment or be transferred to a nearby medical facility if complications arise.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2007
New programmes hope to help Afghan women understand the importance of natal and prenatal care for the health of themselves and their children.

MWH’s have been adopted in several countries as a means to ‘bridge the geographical gap’ between rural areas with poor access to skilled care and urban areas where more services may be available. An estimated 1,000 women per year will benefit from the services of each MWH.
“Women in Afghanistan need to know that they have the right to the best medical facilities and that it is the responsibility of the government to provide that,” says UNICEF Project Officer on Child Protection Dr. Nafisa Qani.

The heart of a stable society

Doctors at Malalai Hospital attribute the alarming number of maternal deaths to the effects that years of conflict have wrought on the health system, as well as conservative cultural sensibilities that put the health of Afghan women at risk.

Forty per cent of women in Afghanistan are married before the age of 18; one third of these women have children before reaching adulthood. Many pregnant women are deprived of basic health care and only 11 per cent of deliveries take place in a health facility.

To help achieve the Millennium Development Goal of improving maternal health, the Government of Afghanistan with the support of UNICEF and other UN agencies has agreed to a Joint Programme for Maternal Mortality Reduction that aims to reduce maternal mortality 20 per cent by the end of 2008.

A healthy family is the heart of a stable society and is essential to building long-term security for all Afghans. While much progress has been made in the past five years towards reducing maternal mortality in Afghanistan, sustained technical and financial resources must continue so even more mothers and their babies live.



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