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Afghan Maternal Mortality Rate: Math That Doesn’t Add Up

Blog , 2015-05-28

Mothers take care of us. They protect and provide for us. They sacrifice so much for us, and no matter how old we are, we all need our moms. Yet many children in the developing world lose their mothers to maternal mortality, and in Afghanistan, a woman is five times more likely to die in childbirth than in other developing countries. (1)

May 28th is International Day of Action for Women’s Health, which has a focus on women’s health issues including sexual and reproductive issues and maternal mortality.

As defined by the World Bank, maternal mortality is:

the number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes while pregnant or within 42 days of pregnancy termination per 100,000 live births. (2)

While maternal mortality rates are relatively low in developed countries, lack of proper medical care or even simply the lack of access to it due to cultural or infrastructural barriers, continue to contribute to staggering maternal mortality rates throughout the developing world.

For centuries, rurual Afghan women have given birth at home, but the repression of the extremist Taliban regime created a lack of educated healthcare workers and denied women access to healthcare,  directly impacting the safety of women in childbirth.

1989 – The Soviet Union pulls of out Afghanistan resulting in warring between Mujahideen warlords vying for power. (3)
1990 – 7,900 maternal deaths and only 2.2% of births had skilled medical practitioners in attendance. (4)
1994 – Taliban began its campaign in Afghanistan and seized Kabul in 1996. (5)

* The Taliban campaign, based on misinterpretation of Islamic law, crippled women’s rights, banning the education and employment of women (6)

* Male physicians are not allowed to tend to women and women are not allowed to be educated or work, the availability of female medical physicians plummets. (7)

1997 – women are banned from general hospitals, leaving only 1 hospital in Kabul open to female patients. (8)

* 2000 – maternal mortality deaths rise to 11,000. (9)

2005 – maternal mortality drops to 8,100. (10)
2013 – with skilled attendance at 50.3% of births, maternal mortality drops to the lowest it has been in 23 years of 4,200 deaths. (11)

ARZU works to reduce maternal mortality rates in the communities we work through education-based approaches and by providing transportation to reach medical clinics. We first began our healthcare initiative in 2006, requiring that all women weavers and female family members must be allowed to attend pre and post-natal checkups and get immunizations for the newborns. ARZU plays a critical role by providing a structure that combines financial incentive to encourage culturally liberal practices.

Since we began our initiative, we have transported over 360 women to clinics and have not lost a single mother in child labor. That statistic alone is powerful enough to prove the critical role education and access to healthcare play in the prevention of maternal mortality in rural developing countries.

For mothers who do have home births, we continue to provide education and support. In 2013 we bought 1,000 birth kits and partnered with local community healthcare workers to educate mothers on the use of the birth kits and ways to facilitate safe births with a skilled attendant.

Children deserve to grow up with a mother, and mothers deserve to watch their children grow up. We can help ensure more mothers and children in the most destitute populations in the world have this opportunity become reality by providing education and access to healthcare for women. With you support, ARZU and other organizations like ours will be able to continue our missions of creating a future where the world is a little bit better.


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For more information on the May 28 movement: http://www.may28.org/

1 http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/afghan/un-afghan-history.shtml

2 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT

3 http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/afghan/un-afghan-history.shtml

4 http://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/afg.pdf?ua=1

5 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/6185.htm

6 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/6185.htm

7 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/6185.htm

8 http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/opinion/the-taliban-s-war-on-women.html

9 http://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/afg.pdf?ua=1

10 http://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/afg.pdf?ua=1

11  http://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/afg.pdf?ua=1