High birth rate killing mothers, infants
- UNFPA expert
KABUL, 14 July 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan has the
highest fertility rate in Asia - 6.7 - which not only
means the deaths of thousands of young mothers and
infants every year but also poses long-term
challenges, an expert of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
Ramesh Penumaka, UNFPA's country representative,
said the average Afghan woman gives birth to 6-7
children and if this trend were to continue
Afghanistan's current estimated population of 26
million would surpass 56 million by 2050.
"If the fertility rates are not reduced,
Afghanistan's population will more than double by
2050; from 47th most populous country, Afghanistan
would become the 31st most populous country in the
world," Penumaka said.
A substantial increase in the population rate would
more than double demand for land and water, exacerbate
pressure on the infrastructure and adversely affect
the environment, experts said.
"Continued rapid population growth poses a bigger
threat to poverty reduction in most countries than
HIV/AIDS," the UNFPA said in a statement on World
Population Day, 11 July.
The UNFPA said slower population growth would help
the least developed countries like Afghanistan to
invest properly in children's health, education and
progress, and reduce the maternal and infant mortality
rate, as well as HIV infection rates.
High maternal mortality
After Sierra Leone, Afghanistan has the highest
maternal mortality rate in the world with at least
1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to
UNFPA and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"That is a staggering 24,000 women dying every
year, and 87 percent of them [deaths] are
preventable," Ramesh Penumaka told reporters in Kabul
on 14 July.
Lack of access to obstetric and health services,
early marriages and multiple short-term pregnancies
are the main reasons why about 60 mothers die every
UNFPA said birth intervals of at least 36 months
would contribute to a considerable reduction in
maternal and infant mortality rates.
"Research shows that birth spacing saves lives by
allowing mothers to space their children to healthier
intervals, improving the lives of women and their
children," UNFPA said. "Access to contraceptives
empowers women. It can also save their life."
Poor health services
Afghanistan's Public Health Ministry says basic
health services reach up to 85 percent of the country,
but only 18 percent of deliveries were attended by
skilled birth attendants in 2007, UNFPA's statistics
Most pregnant women do not have access to skilled
health care and obstetric services due to a lack of
awareness, access problems and/or men's unwillingness
to take females to health centres.
"The key to better maternal health lies with the
men, who have to be sensitive to the health problems
and the needs of women," Penumaka said.
Up to 50 percent of Afghan girls get married before
they are 15; some are married at the age of eight,
UNFPA has found.
Consequently many young mothers, who also have
little access to health care, nutrition and other
services, die due to pregnancy-related complications.
Early marriages also contribute to high infant
mortality rates; 165 in every 1,000 infants die before
their first birthday, according to UNICEF.
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[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]