Afghanistan Among Top 10 Countries With Highest Number of Maternal Deaths, Stillbirths & Infant Deaths, Says UN Report


The latest: According to a new report by the United Nations, Afghanistan is among the 10 countries with the highest number of maternal deaths, stillbirths, and infant deaths in the first weeks after birth.


Go deeper:

  • The report, Improving maternal and newborn health and survival and reducing stillbirth, assesses the latest data on these deaths – which have similar risk factors and causes – and tracks the provision of critical health services.
  • Afghanistan ranked 9th with 95 maternal deaths, stillbirths and neonatal deaths per 1000 individuals. It ranked 2nd in the list of number of total stillbirths and neonatal deaths (in thousands) in 2020 for the 10 most fragile countries.
  • Overall, the report shows that progress in improving survival has stagnated since 2015, with around 290 000 maternal deaths each year, 1.9 million stillbirths – babies who die after 28 weeks of pregnancy – and a staggering 2.3 million newborn deaths, which are deaths in the first month of life.
  • According to the United Nations report, annually more than 4.5 million women and babies in the world die during pregnancy, childbirth or in the first weeks after birth, mainly due to preventable and treatable factors, which is equal to one death every seven seconds.
  • UNAMA has said that international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and UNFPA are working to reverse the statistics.
  • Earlier, UNFPA had announced that Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in Asia.
  • According to this organisation, every two hours a woman in Afghanistan dies due to complications of childbirth and pregnancy.
  • This is while the lack of female doctors, including in remote areas, is a serious challenge for health centers. With the continuation of this situation, the lack of female doctors in the future will be a more serious challenge than today.


Zoom out: The matter at hand assumes significance as the Taliban has currently banned women from working with United Nations and any non-governmental organizations, thus making it difficult for women to provide health care access in remote areas.

  • The move has thrown the global health NGOs that have been at the forefront of the country’s public-private healthcare delivery model (see box) into disarray. Initially, several, including Afghanaid, CARE International, International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief, Norwegian Refugee Council, and Save the Children—organizations long associated with the delivery of primary healthcare services in Afghanistan—had decided to suspend operations. They stressed that they could not cannot effectively reach children, women, and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff.
  • The ban has slashed the workforce of humanitarian organizations and threatened the incomes of women who worked for them — many of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families. With Afghan women accounting for about a third of NGO staff and a fifth of U.N. staff in Afghanistan, many programs are only operating partially with male staff or in sectors or locations where the Taliban has granted limited exemptions to the ban.
  • Also, because women can’t interact with male aid workers under the Taliban’s social code, aid groups worry that female-headed households and their families may be cut off from assistance.
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