KABUL -- The Afghan Health Ministry says that although it has lowered the country's high maternal mortality rate in recent years, the country is still critically short of trained midwives, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.
The ministry told RFE/RL on October 10 that Afghanistan had reduced the number of maternal deaths during childbirth from some 1,800 per 100,000 live births in 2002 to an estimated 1,400 per 100,000 live births this year.
Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. Italy had the world's lowest maternal mortality rate in 2008 of 3.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Afghanistan's decrease in maternal deaths has taken place mainly in urban areas, where many new health facilities have been built and the quality of care has risen in the past eight years.
But Health Ministry spokesman Ghulan Sakhi Kargar said that the high number of women who die during childbirth in rural areas was still alarming.
He said that since 2002, when the Taliban was ousted from power, the government had focused on making women aware of the benefits of having smaller families. Kargar added that the addition of some 2,000 health-care centers across the country had made medical care more accessible.
Health Ministry officials in Kabul say there is still an urgent shortage in Afghanistan of some 6,000 midwives needed to aid in childbirth. Kargar said at least 1,000 nurses and midwives had been trained so far this year and make up the some 2,500 midwives currently working throughout the country.
But not all of Afghanistan's remote areas have seen the improvements.
Rahela, 38, who recently gave birth in the northeastern Takhar Province, told RFE/RL that she spent one day and night travelling to a health clinic to give birth. She said that "many women in villages die on their way to a [far away] clinic."