Background: The present study was performed to assess, beyond socio-economic factors, independent associations between the health and nutritional status of children under 5 years old and (1) family behavioural factors related to women with regard to child care and (2) war-related experience by the household of hardships in Afghanistan.
Methods: The subjects were all children born during the previous 5 years from 1400 households in Kabul Province, Afghanistan and were selected by multistage sampling in March 2006. Height and weight measurements of the children and culturally sensitive interviews with their mothers were conducted by household visits. Child mortality, morbidity and nutritional status were evaluated. Four areas were assessed as variables for family behavioural factors related to women: education of mothers, child marriage of the mothers, maternal autonomy in obtaining healthcare for children and preference for a female physician. Hardships experienced by the family were examined by determining their satisfaction of basic material needs and by any experience of being forced to leave a preferred residence.
Results: A total of 2474 children from 1327 households completed the examinations and interviews; among them, 101 children were deceased by the time of the interview visits. Diarrhoea (32.5%) and acute respiratory infection (41.0%) were common child health problems and both emaciation (12.4%) and linear growth retardation (39.9%) were prevalent. Regardless of the influence of economic, demographic, family behavioural or hardships experience factors, a lack of maternal autonomy (79.1%) was associated with the occurrence of acute respiratory infection (odds-ratio = 1.72; 95% confidence interval = 1.23, 2.40), and linear growth retardation of children (odds-ratio = 1.38; 95% confidence interval = 1.01, 1.90); a lack of education of the mother (71.7%) and child marriage of the mothers (18.3%) were associated with diarrhoea (odds-ratio = 1.84; 95% confidence interval = 1.40, 2.41; odds-ratio = 1.46; 95% confidence interval = 1.08, 1.96, respectively); a shortage of basic material needs (59.1%) was associated with diarrhoea (odds-ratio = 1.35; 95% confidence interval = 1.08, 1.68); and migration inside the country (52.9%) was associated with underweight children (odds-ratio = 2.48; 95% confidence interval = 1.13, 5.44).
Conclusion: A lack of education of the mothers, child marriage, lack of maternal autonomy, shortage of basic material needs and internal displacement showed independent and significant negative associations with child health and nutritional variables in this country that has experienced a long period of conflict.