Afghan maternal, child mortality rates 'acute emergency': UNICEF

Women and children in Afghanistan face an "acute emergency" because of high maternal and child mortality rates, the U.N. children's agency said.

About 20 percent of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday, said Cecilia Lotse, UNICEF's director for South Asia, and about 1,600 out of every 100,000 Afghan mothers die while giving birth or because of related complications.

"While the country is progressing from a state of emergency to a focus on development, I think it's fair to say that the objective reality of women and children remains nothing but an acute emergency," she said at a news conference.

In some parts of Afghanistan, maternal death rates are as high as 6,000 per 100,000 women, she said, citing Afghan public Health Ministry figures. Lotse compared the statistic to an estimated three deaths in her native Sweden.

"Afghan women don't live long lives," she said. "Afghanistan may be the one country in the world where women die before men."

About 20 percent of all Afghan children die before age 5 from diseases including diarrheal ailments, pneumonia, malaria and typhoid, she said. Many deaths could be prevented through simple immunizations, better access to clean water, and improved knowledge about sanitary practices.

Lotse said all children - but particularly girls - were "very vulnerable" in Afghanistan, the AP reports.

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