One in four Afghan children dies before fifth birthday

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan has one of the poorest records in the world for women and children's health. And despite the grand promises made to post-war Afghanistan, there is no sign of improvement any time soon.

Afghanistan has one of the poorest records in the world for women and children's health. And despite the grand promises made to post-war Afghanistan, there is no sign of improvement any time soon.

Unicef says 1,600 women per 100,000 die in childbirth in Afghanistan; in the UK, the rate is 16 per 100,000. In the most remote areas the maternal mortality rate is 6,000 per 100,000, meaning that 6 per cent of women die during labour.

Even if mother and baby survive, their prospects are dismal. One in four children dies before their fifth birthday; in most Western countries, the rate is fewer than 30 per 1,000 live births.

The 26 million people have just 900 clinics for reproductive health and childbirth. Charities and aid agencies have been frustrated that the Millennium Development Goals did not directly address the issue of reproductive health.

The US refuses to fund organisations promoting abortion. Lucy Palmer, support manager for the sexual health charity Marie Stopes International in south Asia, said: "Because of the work we do on abortion, we have to rely on European partners.

"The Americans had committed a lot of money to a basic healthcare package in Afghanistan which would have given women better access to services, but just before the elections the cash was diverted to building roads.

"Contraception is not illegal in Afghanistan but women only have access to these services if there is a clinic two or three kilometres away, and for most that is not the case."

Chronic shortages of trained doctors, midwives and hospitals also mean most women who develop complications during labour are likely to die.

Ms Palmer added: "[We] are struggling just to get our teams out there and working. The country needs a national training centre for doctors and midwives."

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