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WHE Public Health Fieldwork: Infant/Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan

High Infant/Maternal Mortality Rates in Afghanistan

According to a report on the UNICEF website, about 25% of the children in Afghanistan die before reaching the age of five and fifty women die everyday due to pregnancy related complications. George Mason University Psychology Undergraduate Candidate, Nouria Sharifi, set out to find out why in her 2011 field study. Research paper and references are below:

references Sharifi.pdf

(PDF — 64 KB)

Brief: Infant/Maternal Mortality Rate in Afghanistan

by Nouria Sharifi

Mortality in waiting: A mother and her child wait for care in a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: © IRIN)

According to a report by UNICEF infants, children under the age of five, and maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan are among the highest. In fact, Afghanistan ranks second when it comes to under 5 age mortality. About 25% of the children die before reaching the age of five as well as about 50 women dying every day from pregnancy related issues. On the same exact report there was a list of other issues that Afghanistan faces every day, however there was one that may have more of a a direct effect on the infant/maternal mortality rate than the others; a lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

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After hours of researching, it seemed clear that the reason for these high rates of infant/mortality rate comes back to its cultural routes. Afghanistan has a unique culture where women are treated more as a means of giving birth and unfortunately do not have the freedom and leisure that women in America have. In the article “Northeast Afghanistan-the worst place to give birth?,” Merlin was discussing how the fact that women are obligated to cover themselves constantly from head to toe and how that may be the cause of some infant/maternal mortalities that have occurred. The sun is a source of nutrient when receiving an adequate amount, therefore when these women are covered from head to toe they are not receiving any vitamin D which is generated through the exposure of the sunlight.

In the same article, Merlin stated another factor where the culture contributes in these unfortunate rates, which is the fact that these “women” are actually young girls. In the Afghan culture, women are praised when they wed early and give birth; however, what they are unaware of is the fact that their bodies are not fully developed, such as their pelvic region. There have been cases where deaths occur from either the baby and or the mother because the baby gets stuck during labor due to the undeveloped pelvic. These same “women” are also having multiple closely-spaced births which do not give their body an adequate amount of time to recover from the previous birth (an average woman needs a year to recover from a pregnancy).

There is hope though and steps are being taken to get this under control. UNICEF had launched several programs in Afghanistan to help decline the rate of infant/maternal mortalities. UNICEF and their other partners, who were not listed on the UNICEF page, had launched a vaccination program for women and children. Their goals for this program was to “reduce child measles mortality by 90% and to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.” They have managed to immunize five million children and dropped polio cases from 27 in 2004 to only five in 2005. The article also stated that they had helped half a million Afghan’s gain access to safe water and sanitation; however it did not go into detail about the steps that were taken.

Another organization, referred to as Muslim Hands has the same outlook as UNICEF. They too want to educate the women and men in Afghanistan so that their country could once again stand strong on their own feet. Unfortunately, there was not as much information on them, but it was made clear that they are trying to help their own and getting them back to the healthy state that the people and country once used to be.

People are well aware of the problem that is residing in Afghanistan and fortunately steps are being taken to better educate and to better communicate. It was made clear that the culture has quite an emphasis on these staggering statistics. The challenge seems to be more on how to approach it and at the same time with respect to their culture.

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