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AFGHANISTAN: Where Birth May Mean Death Twelve year old Farishta peers outside the dilapidated warehouse where she has lived with her family for eight years.

Maternal Health in Afghanistan By: Lucy Howard-Robbins


here are some aspects of a midwife’s job that are universal. When a midwife prepares to birth a baby, they must expect the unexpected. They must anticipate careful planning going out the window, no matter how prepared and determined parents and medical professionals are.

So while women in Australia face incredibly low odds of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, women in Afghanistan face a 1 in 32 risk of death. In a country where girls marry young and many are pregnant annually from their first menstruation, the risk they are facing is horrifying.

Here in Australia, the unexpected can be frightening for midwives and parents, but most people have access to first-class hospitals, medicine and doctors. This includes pre-natal and anti-natal care, both of which can throw complications at parents just as much as the actual birth. For most people in Australia, the unexpected stops at frightening.

Worst of all, it is unnecessary. While it is not expected that Afghanistan’s maternal health can be brought up to the same level as Australia’s, there are many simple initiatives that can be introduced to significantly reduce illness and death among women and their infants. Women in Afghanistan have limited access to family planning or control. Too often women have little or no control over their own bodies and clinics providing assistance are far away. Access to modern methods and knowledge of family planning would undoubtedly and significantly reduce maternal and child mortality.

So why in Afghanistan does the unexpected result in illness, death and grief? Afghanistan has long been reported as one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman. A large contributor to this dubious title is the severe lack of maternal health.

One of the most common causes of maternal death in Afghanistan is severe post-partum bleeding. If women do not or cannot reach skilled medical help they die from blood loss or infection. It takes a lot of work for women to access what medical help there is available in Afghanistan. One solution to this is to train more women to act as midwives in their home towns and villages. Afghanistan desperately needs more midwives who support women through all stages of their pregnancy. Education is the first step. Increasing the numbers of young girls and women in schools is essential to training midwives to deliver the next generation.


Too many women are not living to experience what many in Australia consider to be the best moments of their lives; they do not hold their newborn baby, they do not see their child’s first steps, they do not see them grow up. In Australia, 99% of women give birth in a medical institution with a skilled attendant present. The result is that women in Australia have a 1 in 8,100 lifetime risk of maternal death. In Afghanistan many people live in remote and isolated villages. It is impossible for some women to leave their families behind and travel the long distance across difficult terrain to a hospital or health centres they might not be able to afford, all while pregnant. As a result, only 39% women actually give birth with a skilled attendant present; most give birth in their homes, too far from help if the unexpected should happen.

Enabling one young girl to attend school could result in hundreds of safe deliveries. Just one young girl educated as a midwife could mean that hundreds of Afghani women anticipate their pregnancy with all the joy and hope that every woman deserves.


Profile for AM-UNITY Magazine

Edition 2  

This edition of AM-UNITY Magazine sees a focus on Refugee/Asylum Seeker Rights, Afghan Women’s Rights and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgende...

Edition 2  

This edition of AM-UNITY Magazine sees a focus on Refugee/Asylum Seeker Rights, Afghan Women’s Rights and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgende...