Maternal Mortality in Afghanistan

This week, I wanted to write about maternal mortality.  The rate of maternal death differs greatly around the world, depending on the country’s healthcare system, nutrition, and general support for mothers.  I want to focus on maternal mortality in Afghanistan because of the different cultural factors contributing to the sharp increase in cases.  Aside from these cultural factors, there are many problems with healthcare and support for mothers.  This chart from UNICEF focuses on the chance of death for a woman giving birth in different regions of the world:

On average, 1,600 out of 100,000 mothers in Afghanistan will die during childbirth.  This number changes depending on the region of the country; in some areas, the number is approximately 6,500 deaths per 100,000 births.  There are many medical problems associated with maternal death in Afghanistan.  First, many young women are wed before they are young enough to give birth safely.  Because of this, their bodies are not fully developed which leads to early death during childbirth.  For other mothers, there are deadly complications.  In rural areas of Afghanistan, home births are a tradition.  This means that they are most likely not given the medical attention they need and small health complications can result in death.  “Among the prime complications of childbirth in Afghanistan are bleeding, infection, hypertension, and obstructed labor.”  Many of these deaths could be avoided if women were treated in safe environments by trained health professionals.  Unfortunately, many of these women do not have access to transportation or hospitals.  If they choose to give birth at home, “trained midwives are rarely in attendance.”

This brings me to my next point about cultural factors and maternal death in Afghanistan.  Because of lack of education and job opportunities, most health care workers are male.  However, “Afghan men prefer their women to consult only women doctors.”  This is very problematic because only 23.5 percent of health care workers in Afghanistan are women.  Women only work in 2 out of 3 of the country’s health care facilities, which means that women cannot always be treated at the closest hospital.

This 26 year-old woman died two weeks after giving birth.

The country has taken notice of this problem and is taking positive steps towards decreasing the total number of deaths.  First, the country plans to distribute misoprostol in thirteen provinces.  Pregnant mothers will be required to take it following delivery.  This drug removes the placenta, which ultimately prevents hemorrhage, one of the leading causes of death related to childbirth.  Aside from medical assistance, the country has recognized the importance of adding women into the workforce.  More midwifery schools will be set up around the country and a higher number of female students will be in attendance.  This way, more pregnant women will feel comfortable giving birth in hospitals.  Although this sound very challenging, there is already evidence that these tactics are effective.  “Ever since we got an ambulance, a lady doctor, two midwives and an operating theatre three years ago, we have not had a single case of maternal mortality,’ said Abdi Mohammad, head of the Eshkashem health clinic and an obstetric surgeon.”  These strategies have proven to be successful on a small-scale and will not be implemented on a larger scale.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals recognizes the importance of improving maternal healthcare around the world.  As this article stresses, without improved maternal health care, there will be (and has been) an increase in infant mortality.  By improving material health care, the lives of children will change for the better.  Currently, a woman dies every twenty-seven minutes in Afghanistan as a result of maternal complications.  Hopefully, as these news tactics are put into action, this figure will change.

This video brings to life many of the points I made in this blog:

In this blog, I discuss maternal mortality in a country very different from the United States.  In the United States, there is greater access to health care and there are no cultural limitations that affect each woman in the country.  In 2003, figures showed that approximately thirteen out of every 100,000 mothers die while giving birth.  This statistic is relatively low, but there are certain states in which the figure is much different.  Overall, maternal death in the United States is on the rise.  Specifically, in recent years, the figure in California has nearly tripled.  Many attribute this to the changing demographics of mothers.  Three important factors that are being considered are age, fertility, and weight.

However, it has also been noted that there is a dramatic increase in the number of cesarean births.  Now, approximately every third child is born by cesarean section.  This has two consequences: medically and financially.  Cesarean sections are much more expensive than vaginal births and are also more dangerous for a woman’s physical well being, because of a higher risk of hemorrhaging.  Others speculate that some women are opting to have C-sections to avoid stretching out their vagina.  The idea that vaginas become unattractive with age and/or experience is quite prevalent, to the point that many women are voluntarily going under the knife to have their vagina tightened.  This is called labiaplasty, a procedure which has been on the rise in the United States for years.  Click here to learn more about how and why women are opting to have this procedure done.

Overall, it is important to consider how different factors affect maternal mortality, specifically class and culture.  However, as I noted above, many of these deaths are preventable.  Maternal mortality is avoidable and it is crucial that women have the resources they need to protect themselves and their families.  As noted above, it is also beneficial when a government takes notice of a problem and works towards eliminating it.

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