In recent years, Afghan women have achieved significant social, economic, political and cultural gains that affect their quality of life. Despite these improvements, the country is still burdened with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. According to UNICEF, 1,800 women die for every 100,000 births; most of these deaths are highly preventable, making it a serious public health concern.
The most common complication resulting in the death of the mother is post-partum hemorrhaging. Most Afghan women give birth in their homes, whether by choice or because of rural location. The differences in maternal mortality rates by region reflect the lack of resources and lack of access to health facilities. Most of the rural home-births are done without the presence of a skilled birthing attendant, increasing the risk for the mother.
UNICEF estimated that only 7 percent of women who died used a birthing attendant. Another challenge Afghan women face is access to hemorrhaging preventing drugs. Inexpensive drugs that simply don’t reach parts of rural Afghanistan where it is needed the most, due to conflict or allocation complications.
Afghanistan’s shortage of midwives and antihemorrhagic drugs are not the only two factors contributing to the high mortality rate. Lack of education, political participation, social and cultural practices also play large roles.
Women forced into marriages at a young age is not uncommon. Since contraception is not widely used, women also get pregnant at very young ages. When a woman is 14 or 15, the body is usually not developed enough to naturally carry a child. Women having children at a young age is arguably the greatest biological danger for a mother and her child. High maternal mortality rates directly effect infant mortality rates. When the mother of a newborn dies, the child only has a 1 in 4 chance of surviving the first year of its life.
UNICEF and the Center for Disease Control make several recommendations aimed at improving the lives of women and reducing the maternal mortality rates: establishing health care services in rural areas that are equipped with essential drugs and able to perform cesarean sections, assisted deliveries and safe blood transfusions as necessary; increasing the number of trained birth attendants, midwives and nurses; providing education programs on recognizing pregnancy complications; and building and repairing roads to make health care facilities more easily accessible.
– Maris Brummel