‘Dying every two hours’: Afghan women risk life to give birth

In this photograph taken on December 8, 2023, Islam Bibi, mother of six children and newborn triplets, sits beside her three babies at the Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-run maternity hospital in Khost. (AFP)
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Updated 27 December 2023
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‘Dying every two hours’: Afghan women risk life to give birth

  • Afghanistan is among the worst countries in the world for deaths in childbirth, “with one woman dying every two hours,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier this month

KHOST, Afghanistan: Zubaida traveled from the rural outskirts of Khost in eastern Afghanistan to give birth at a maternity hospital specializing in complicated cases, fearing a fate all too common among pregnant Afghan women — her death or her child’s.
She lay dazed, surrounded by the unfamiliar bustle of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-run hospital, exhausted from delivery the day before, but relieved.
Her still-weak newborn slept nearby in an iron crib with peeling paint, the child’s eyes lined with khol to ward off evil.
“If I had given birth at home, there could have been complications for the baby and for me,” said the woman, who doesn’t know her age.
Not all of the women who make it to the hospital are so lucky.
“Sometimes we receive patients who come too late to save their lives” after delivering at home, said Therese Tuyisabingere, the head of midwifery at MSF in Khost, capital of Khost province.
The facility delivers 20,000 babies a year, nearly half those born in the province, and it only takes on high-risk and complicated pregnancies, many involving mothers who haven’t had any check-ups.
“This is a big challenge for us to save lives,” said Tuyisabingere.
She and the some 100 midwives at the clinic are on the front lines of a battle to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan, where having many children is a source of pride, but where every birth carries heavy risks — with odds against women mounting.
Afghanistan is among the worst countries in the world for deaths in childbirth, “with one woman dying every two hours,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier this month.
The Afghan health ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
According to the latest World Health Organization figures, from 2017, 638 women die in Afghanistan for every 100,000 viable births, compared with 19 in the United States.
That figure, moreover, conceals the huge disparities between rural and urban areas.
Terje Watterdal, country director for the non-profit Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC), said they saw 5,000 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in remote parts of Afghanistan.
“Men carry the women over their shoulders, and the women die over the mountain trying to reach a hospital,” he said.

Before the return to power of the Taliban in August 2021 and the end of their insurgency, women would sometimes have to brave the frontlines to reach help, but now there are new challenges — including a “brain drain” of expertise.
“A lot of gynaecologists have left the country,” Watterdal said.
Moreover, Taliban authorities want to get rid of the mobile medical teams visiting women because “they cannot control the health messages they were giving,” he said.
Under the Taliban government, women have been squeezed from public life and had access to education restricted, threatening the future of the female medical field in a country where many families avoid sending women to male doctors.
“Access to antenatal and postnatal care for a woman was (always) extremely complicated. It’s even more complicated today,” said Filipe Ribeiro, MSF director in Afghanistan.
This is due to measures taken by authorities as well as the failings of the health care system — including structural support from foreign donors.
“What little there was has been put under even greater pressure,” Ribeiro said.
The financial strain on families amid the country’s economic crisis increases the risks, said Noor Khanum Ahmadzai, health coordinator for non-governmental organization Terre des Hommes in Kabul.
In a public hospital where the midwives are overworked and poorly paid, women have to bring their own medicine.
A delivery costs around 2,000 Afghanis ($29) — a significant sum for many families.
Despite the risks, “women who used to go to the public sector now prefer to deliver at home, because they don’t have money,” said Ahmadzai.
An estimated 40 percent of Afghan women give birth at home, but that shoots up to 80 percent in remote areas — often with the help of their mother-in-law or a local matriarch, but sometimes alone.

Islam Bibi, pregnant with triplets, went to the MSF facility in Khost in pain, and empty-handed.
“I was sick, my husband didn’t have any money. I was told, ‘Go to this hospital, they do everything for free’,” said the 38-year-old, one of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who fled Pakistan in recent months, fearing deportation.
Multiple births like Islam Bibi’s are common, said Tania Allekotte, an MSF gynaecologist from Argentina.
“It is valued here to have many children and many women take a treatment to stimulate their fecundity. We often have twins here,” she told AFP.
The average woman has six children in Afghanistan, but multiple pregnancies, repeated caesarean sections or miscarriages increase the risk of death.
There are some rays of hope.
Women in neighboring Paktia province may have fewer risks now, thanks to a first-of-its-kind maternity center opened recently by NAC in the small provincial capital Gardez — a clinic run by women for women.
“This type of clinic doesn’t exist in the majority of provinces,” Khair Mohammad Mansoor, the Taliban-appointed provincial health director, told the all-male audience.
“We have created a system for them in which sharia law and all medical principles will be observed.”
The NAC facility aims to help “many of our sisters who live in isolated areas,” manager Nasrin Oryakhil said, with similar clinics planned for four other provinces in the coming months.
Its walls freshly painted and decorated with posters promoting vitamins and iron for pregnant women, the small clinic is set up for 10 deliveries a day, said head midwife Momina Kohistani.
Keeping mothers alive as they bring new life into the world is close to home for her.
“My mother died in childbirth,” she murmured, tears rolling down her cheeks.


China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 22 May 2024
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China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

  • “Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news

BEIJING: China will continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Iran, safeguard common interests, and make endeavors for regional and world peace, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, citing comments from Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, while attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news. “In this difficult time, China firmly stands by Iranian friends,” he said, referring to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

 


Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

Updated 22 May 2024
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Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

  • The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution

DUBLIN: The Irish government is to announce the recognition of a Palestinian state on Wednesday, a move strongly opposed by Israel, a source familiar with the matter said.
European Union members Ireland, Spain, Slovenia and Malta have indicated in recent weeks that they plan to make the recognition, possibly in a coordinated announcement, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.
The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution.
Israel’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned against the move, saying in a post on social media platform X that recognition would “lead to more terrorism, instability in the region and jeopardize any prospects for peace.”
“Don’t be a pawn in the hands of Hamas,” the ministry said.
Hamas holds around 125 hostages seized during its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and triggered the war. Gaza medical officials say more than 35,000 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.
The Irish government on Tuesday evening said the prime minister and foreign minister would speak to the media on Wednesday morning but did not say what the topic would be.


Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

Updated 15 min 26 sec ago
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Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

  • The airline said the aircraft was a Boeing 777-300ER with a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board
  • A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured

SINGAPORE: More than 140 passengers and crew from a Singapore Airlines flight hit by heavy turbulence that left dozens injured and one dead finally reached Singapore on a relief flight Wednesday morning after an emergency landing in Bangkok.
The scheduled London-Singapore flight on a Boeing 777-300ER plane diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling.
A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured.
“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters after arriving in Singapore.
Photographs from the interior of the plane showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.
Singapore Airlines took 131 passengers and 12 crew on the relief flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT). There were 211 passengers including many Australians, British and Singaporeans, and 18 crew on board the original flight; injured fliers and their families remained in Bangkok.
“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video message.
Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.
The plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, Goh said, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.
Aircraft tracking provider FlightRadar 24 said at around 0749 GMT the flight encountered “a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event,” based on flight tracking data.
“There were thunderstorms, some severe, in the area at the time,” it said.
The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.
Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.
While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.
From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.
Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.
Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.
 

 


Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Updated 22 May 2024
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Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

  • In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday

NASHUA, N.H.: President Joe Biden, aiming to highlight his legislative accomplishments this election year, traveled to New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss how he’s helped military veterans get benefits as a result of burn pit or other toxic exposure during their service.
“We can never fully thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Biden said to the veterans and their families gathered at a YMCA. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s our motto.”
In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday. That amounts to about 888,000 veterans and survivors in all 50 states who have been able to receive disability benefits under the law.
That totals about $5.7 billion in benefits given to veterans and their survivors, according to the administration.
“The president, I think, has believed now for too long, too many veterans who got sick serving and fighting for our country had to fight the VA for their care, too,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Monday. PACT stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.”
The PACT Act is relatively lower profile compared to the president’s other legislative accomplishments — such as a bipartisan infrastructure law and a sweeping tax, climate and health care package — but it is one that is deeply personal for Biden.
He has blamed burn pits for the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and has vowed repeatedly that he would get the PACT Act into law. Burn pits are where chemicals, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste were disposed of on military bases and were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before the law, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70 percent of disability claims that involved burn pit exposure. Now, the law requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit or other toxic exposure without veterans having to prove the link.
Before Biden’s planned remarks, he went to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The president met there with Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits through the PACT Act because her late husband, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Clark, was exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, marked the milestone by praising the veterans who advocated for the law.
“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe— until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.


Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Updated 22 May 2024
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Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

  • The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.
The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.
He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.
In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.
“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.
Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.