Afghanistan, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, must intensify efforts to improve the health of women and children as part of overall efforts to boost conditions in the war-ravaged country, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said today in Kabul.“I would like to make a strong call for greater investment in the health and well-being of Afghanistan’s women and their families,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. In Afghanistan, UNFPA is supporting a national census while seeking to promote gender equity and women’s empowerment and foster maternal health, reproductive health and HIV prevention. Ms. Obaid said work in these areas will benefit Afghanistan as a whole. “We all know from many studies that women contribute greatly to their families and communities and that when women participate in the community and the family, that the country becomes much stronger,” she said.“In our work in Afghanistan and the overall strategy of the country, the big challenge facing human development in Afghanistan is to support women and girls so they can exercise their rights to education, to health, to decent work, to live free from violence, coercion and discrimination, and to participate fully in public life,” she added.A central concern is addressing the problem of violence against women, in law enforcement and through public awareness. “But most importantly violence against women will not stop if the men themselves do not participate in stopping the violence,” she said.On average, one Afghan mother dies for every 60 births, but maternal death rates in some provinces are several times higher, according to UNFPA, which is working with the authorities to train female health personnel to deal with the problem. “We want to ensure that we can offer a comprehensive package of life-saving health services, including family planning, skilled attendance at birth and access to emergency obstetric care,” said Ms. Obaid.The UNFPA Executive Director, who will meet with senior Government officials and representatives of civil society during her stay in the country, said these talks would be a two-way exchange of ideas. “I am here to discuss the development and progress of Afghanistan, but also to listen to the Government and civil society to understand better the issues that you are facing.”Overall, she said the agency’s aim is “to ensure that we can support development for the Afghan people and that they can have a better quality of life throughout.” 23 April 2007Afghanistan, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, must intensify efforts to improve the health of women and children as part of overall efforts to boost conditions in the war-ravaged country, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said today in Kabul.