Following years of conflict and neglect, major efforts now are underway to develop health policy and rehabilitate the health facilities in Afghanistan. As part of these efforts, there is a need to better understand the health status and health-seeking behaviors. As part of an effort to assist local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a household survey of mothers with children under the age of five years was conducted in two rural districts of Herat Province, Karokh and Chesht-e-Sharif.
A two-stage, 30-cluster approach was used for each district. This included 622 mothers of 926 children under the age of five years living in the two districts. Outcome measures included demographic characteristics, antenatal services, immunization coverage, hemoglobin levels of the mothers, nutritional status and practices, environmental health indicators, recent illness, and health seeking behaviors.
The mean value of ages of the mothers was 27 years with an average parity of 6.1. Less than 5% of mothers ever had attended school. Half of women had lost at least one child before the child reached the age of five years. Under-five-year mortality was estimated at 325. Only 29% of the women had attended an antenatal clinic during their last pregnancy. Virtually all deliveries occurred at home. Only 7.6% of women had received three doses of tetanus toxoid. Less than 9% of the children 12–59 months of age were fully immunized. According to the measurements of mid-upperarm circumference (MUAC), 11% of children were malnourished. Although breastfeeding almost was universal, greater than one-third of the women did not start breastfeeding until the second day after delivery. Protected water sources and appropriate control of feces were lacking in both districts. In the previous two weeks, 45.7% of children had experienced diarrhea, and dysentery had occurred in 10%. Fever had been present in one-quarter of the children.
Household health indicators indicate serious maternal and child health concerns in these two districts. Of particular concern is the poor immunization coverage, lack of reproductive health service, and the prevalence of common childhood illness in these populations. The feeding practices for children and the anemia among mothers also raised concerns. Poor environmental health contributes substantially to childhood illness.Without special emphasis, efforts to rebuild the health sector are likely to reach the household level only late in the process. An aggressive program to integrate community development and promotion of sound health practices is needed to improve the health of the Afghanistan people.