In a country with the world’s second highest maternal mortality rate, health professionals are partnering with religious leaders to distribute condoms and promote spacing births. Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest fertility rates, averaging more than six babies per woman. The maternal death rate in Afghanistan is 1,800 per 100,000 live births; in the U.S. it’s 11 per 100,000 births.
The study–conducted by U.S.-based nonprofit Management Sciences for Health–involved 3,700 families in three rural areas with different ethnic groups. The Health Ministry collaborated with nonprofit organizations to educate people about birth control. Mullahs quoted from the Quran to promote breast-feeding for two years and explained the importance of spacing out births to give women and babies better health outcomes. The mullahs’ message–along with condoms–was often delivered during Friday prayers.
According to the report published Monday in the World Health Organization’s journal, Bulletin, use of the pill, condoms and injected forms of birth control rose to 27 percent over eight months once the benefits were explained one-on-one by health workers. “The fastest, cheapest, easiest way to reduce maternal deaths in Afghanistan is with contraception,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Douglas Huber. I hope this approach catches on in other parts of Afghanistan (and around the world).