perinatal health

Stillbirth rates in Afghanistan have declined little in the past decade with no data available on key risk factors. Health care utilisation and maternal complications are important factors influencing pregnancy outcomes but rarely captured for stillbirth in national surveys from low‐ and middle‐income countries. The 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey (AMS) is one of few surveys with this information. We used data from the 2010 AMS that included a full pregnancy history and verbal autopsy. Our sample included the most recent live birth or stillbirth of 13 834 women aged 12‐49 years in the three years preceding the survey. The risk of stillbirth was increased among women in the Central Highlands and of Nuristani ethnicity. Women who did not receive antenatal care had three times increased risk of stillbirth, while high‐quality antenatal care was important for reducing the risk of intrapartum stillbirth. Bleeding, infection, headache, and reduced fetal movements were antenatal complications strongly associated with stillbirth. Reduced fetal movements in the delivery period increased stillbirth risk by almost seven. Facility births had a higher risk of stillbirths overall, but not for intrapartum stillbirths. Targeted interventions are needed to improve access and utilisation of services for high‐risk groups. Early detection of complications through improved quality of antenatal and obstetric care is imperative. We demonstrate the potential of household surveys to provide country‐specific evidence on stillbirth risk factors for LMICs where data are lacking.

This study, conducted in five rural districts in Afghanistan, used qualitative methods to explore traditional practices of women, families and communities related to maternal and newborn care, and sociocultural and health system issues that create access barriers. The traditional practices discussed include delayed bathing of mothers and delayed breastfeeding of infants, seclusion of women after childbirth, restricted maternal diet, and use of traditional home remedies and self-medication instead of care in health facilities to treat maternal and newborn conditions. This study also looked at community support structures, transportation and care-seeking behaviour for maternal and newborn problems which create access barriers. Sociocultural barriers to better maternal-newborn health include shame about utilisation of maternal and neonatal services, women's inability to seek care without being accompanied by a male relative, and care-seeking from mullahs for serious health concerns. This study also found a high level of post-partum depression. Targeted and more effective behaviour-change communication programmes are needed. This study presents a set of behaviour-change messages to reduce maternal and newborn mortality associated with births occurring at home in rural communities. This study recommends using religious leaders, trained health workers, family health action groups and radio to disseminate these messages.

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