UN warns of Afghan maternal mortality emergency
KABUL: Women and children in Afghanistan continue to face an “acute emergency” because of exceptionally high maternal and child mortality rates, a representative of the UN children’s agency said on Thursday.
About 20 percent of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday, said Cecilia Lotse, UNICEF’s director for South Asia, and about 1,600 out of every 100,000 Afghan mothers die while giving birth or because of related complications.
“While the country is progressing from a state of emergency to a focus on development, I think it’s fair to say that the objective reality of women and children remains nothing but an acute emergency,” she said at a news conference.
In some parts of Afghanistan, maternal death rates are as high as 6,000 per 100,000 women, she said, citing Afghan public Health Ministry figures. Lotse compared the statistic to an estimated three deaths in her native Sweden.
“Afghan women don’t live long lives,” she said. “Afghanistan may be the one country in the world where women die before men.”
About 20 percent of all Afghan children die before age 5 from diseases including diarrhoeal ailments, pneumonia, malaria and typhoid, she said. Many deaths could be prevented through simple immunisations, better access to clean water, and improved knowledge about sanitary practices.
The agency said in a report last October that there had been alarmingly slow progress in reducing child deaths globally, with one in 12 children failing to survive until age 5. Half of all under-5 deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
In 2002, industrialised countries had 7 deaths per 1,000 births, while the poorest nations had 158.
The 10 countries with the most under-5 deaths since 2002 were Sierra Leone with 284 per 1,000 births, Niger 265, Angola 260, Afghanistan 257, Somalia 225, Haiti 222, Guinea-Bissau 211, Burkina Faso 202 and Congo 205, the report said.
Lotse said all children – but particularly girls – were “very vulnerable” in Afghanistan, with almost half the child population suffering from malnutrition.
School enrollment for young Afghan girls is among the lowest in the world. “This represents a tremendous waste of human potential and a tremendous unfulfilled promise,” she said. ap