New study finds marked improvements in Afghanistan's health sector

Independent evaluation suggests 40,000 fewer infant deaths per year compared to 5 years ago

Kabul, 26 April 2007 - Infant mortality rates in Afghanistan declined from an estimated 165 per 1,000 live births in 2001 to about 135 per 1,000 in 2006, according to preliminary findings of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) household survey. This means that 40,000 fewer infants are dying each year compared to during Taliban rule.

A health facility assessment, also commissioned by the Ministry of Public Health, indicates a 25 percent improvement in overall quality of health services since 2004. The JHU assessment - which surveyed more than 600 health facilities each year since 2004 and used a Balance Score Card (BSC) to measure different aspects of quality of services - found improvements in virtually all aspects of care in almost every province.

"Despite many challenges, there are clear signs of health sector recovery and progress throughout the country," said HE Dr. Mohammad Amin Fatimi, Public Health Minister of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. "The JHU evaluations give us some encouragement that the Government has achieved real successes, but there is a long way to go to provide access to basic health services for Afghans in far remote, underserved and marginalized areas across the country. Continuing progress will be difficult without a firm commitment by the international community to increased and secure financing for the sector."

JHU conducted the community survey of more than 8,000 households nationwide to measure access and utilization of health services. It found that the proportion of women receiving antenatal care increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2006. The proportion of couples who were using a modern form of family planning increased from 5 percent to 15 percent in 3 years.. Similarly, the proportion of pregnant women who received attendance by a skilled health worker increased 5 percent to nearly 19 percent.

"The independent JHU evaluation gives us an objective understanding of the health situation in Afghanistan," said Benjamin P. Loevinsohn, World Bank Lead Public Health Specialist. "The World Bank recognizes and appreciates the strong and consistent leadership provided by the Ministry of Public Health. Its systematic collaboration with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to deliver health services has been a model of success."

In order to further improve the health sector performance the Ministry of Public Health is taking a number of steps, including:

- Increasing the number of health facilities with female staff

- Establishing sub-centers in remote and rural areas

- Deploying mobile teams to conduct clinics in underserved areas

- Providing refresher training opportunities for health staff

- Training and deploying community health workers to encourage and educate women about using health services

- Strengthening and expansion of community midwifery education training courses

The Ministry was candid about the need mobilize additional domestic and foreign resources to ensure continuing progress in the health sector and build on its hard-won successes.

To read more on the Ministry of Public Health's activities, please visit:

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