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"In a couple of districts, mullahs were taking our condom stocks and selling them during (night) prayers because the clinics were not open after 4 o'clock," Javid said.
During the study from 2005-2006 -- which involved 3,700 families in three rural areas with different ethnic groups, including both Sunni and Shia Muslims -- the Health Ministry collaborated with nonprofit organizations to spread the word that using birth control was 300 times safer than giving birth in Afghanistan. They also involved husbands in the project and sought to dispel beliefs that contraceptives have negative side effects, such as infertility.
Dr. Matthews Mathai, a maternal health expert at the World Health Organization in Geneva, cautioned that the program may be difficult to expand nationally due to high costs, intensive training and the country's continuing conflict. He also said some women may prefer to have large families, fearing child deaths.
"It's good to see there are results coming out of Afghanistan," said Mathai, who was not involved in the research. "Clearly, it takes the religious leaders and the men to get some change. It would be good if this could be replicated, but in the long run, it has to be sustainable."
The Health Ministry plans to expand the program nationally. Huber said USAID, the European Union and the World Bank are involved in the scale-up. The pilot study was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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