Gates Foundation Funds Programs to Improve Maternal and Child Health Care in Afghanistan

The CDC Foundation announced today that it has received a grant of $1 million from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help rebuild the health care infrastructure for women and children in Afghanistan.

The grant will provide funding for scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to initiate two projects: a program to establish community-based maternal and perinatal health care surveillance systems, which will generate data to help clinicians improve maternity and newborn care, and a program to provide a low-cost technology for producing safe drinking water for clinics and families.

As a result of 23 years of war, the health care system in Afghanistan is in tatters, and medical services, especially for mothers and children, are non-existent in many rural areas. According to a survey conducted by CDC and UNICEF, Afghan women suffer the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world, with almost half of all deaths among women ages 15-49 resulting from pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths are preventable, the study found. UNICEF also reports that 25 percent of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday, many of them from diarrheal diseases and malnutrition. Many of these deaths are caused by the limited supply of clean water and adequate sanitation facilities in Afghanistan. Only 13 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and 12 percent to adequate sanitation facilities.

“The health challenges facing women and children in Afghanistan are immense and far-reaching,” says John Lehnherr, acting director of the Division of Reproductive Health in CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “There is a tremendous need for investment in the basic infrastructure of the health care system and in sanitation and water services. These two programs funded by the Gates Foundation will provide critical support for this urgent international public health problem.”

With the Gates grant, a team of scientists from CDC will begin to establish maternal and perinatal health care surveillance systems at the district level in Afghanistan. The results of these surveillance efforts will help guide decisions about clinical activities and promote appropriate training in emergency obstetrical care and newborn medicine.

Another team of CDC experts will launch an initiative to promote safe water and good hygiene among staff and patients at the main hospitals and clinics in Kabul. The team will distribute a low-cost water-purification technology, including locally produced bleach solution and water storage vessels with lids and spigots, so staff and families can produce clean water and store it safely at clinics and in the home. They will also train individuals in proper hand-washing techniques. CDC estimates that use of the safe water technology along with regular hand washing could decrease diarrheal illnesses in infants by 40 percent or more.

“We are grateful to the Gates Foundation for supporting these important initiatives to reverse the trends of maternal and child mortality in Afghanistan,” says Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “This grant is a crucial investment in the country’s health care infrastructure, which has deteriorated to a deplorable state.”