Planning a child? Then avoid the winter months
KABUL, 3 March 2009 (IRIN) - Some health
specialists are suggesting that couples plan
pregnancies so that the mother’s due date does not
fall in the cold winter months. This, they say, will
help save lives.
Wazhma, 23, had a baby in December and one of her
main problems is how to keep warm.
“Often my baby and I shiver at night,” she said,
adding that her family could not afford to heat even
one room in their house in the southern suburbs of
Winter poses extra and avoidable health risks to
many poor women who have just given birth and who lack
access to fuel for heating and nutritious food, health
Blocked roads in some areas due to snow or
avalanches impede access (sometimes from November to
April) for health workers, and many women are
consequently forced to go without regular health and
obstetric care, especially during the winter.
Cold-related diseases such as pneumonia and
respiratory infections kill hundreds, if not
thousands, of mothers and infants every year,
according to aid agencies; and when fuel is available
for heating, the fumes given off are frequently
damaging to mother and child.
“If families avoid child delivery in the difficult
season of the year [winter], some health problems
which originate from cold weather will be prevented,”
Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public
Health (MoPH) in Kabul, told IRIN.
Fahim’s suggestions were echoed by Marghalay Khara,
director of health and social affairs at the Ministry
of Women’s Affairs: “Child delivery in winter is
associated with many problems which can be avoided by
better family planning.”
Afghanistan comes just after Sierra Leone in terms
of having the worst record on maternal and infant
mortality and the reasons for this go beyond lack of
access to essential healthcare.
The estimated maternal mortality rate (MMR) is
1,600 per 100,000 live births, and infant mortality is
129 per 1,000, according to the UN Children’s Fund
A study by a group of Afghan and Japanese health
experts released in September 2008 indicated that
illiteracy among pregnant women played a significant
part in maternal and infant deaths.
“A lack of education of the mothers, child
marriage, lack of maternal autonomy, shortage of basic
material needs and internal displacement showed
independent and significant negative associations with
child health and nutritional variables in this
country,” concluded the group in their report.
The female illiteracy rate is over 70 percent,
according to UNICEF.
Raising awareness in rural communities on pregnancy
planning and its implications for maternal and infant
health is a continuing challenge for the MoPH and
The MoPH, in collaboration with the Ministry of
Pilgrimage and Religious Affairs, has trained dozens
of imams to help curb maternal mortality through
raising awareness about the need for birth gaps and
the dangers of child marriage.
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