Afghanistan: For Female Pilot, Childbirth Proved More Dangerous Than Flying
of childbirth in Afghanistan have caused the country's Air Corps to lose its
only two female pilots. One of the pilots, Colonel Lailuma, died recently from
complications during the birth of her daughter. The other is Lailuma's mourning
sister, Latifa. She says she'll stop flying because she thinks a commanding
officer's negligence led to her sister's death.
KABUL, August 2, 2006
(RFE/RL) -- Latifa is the only woman pilot in the Afghan National Army's Air
Corps. But she has vowed she will never fly again for that volunteer force.
Latifa blames a senior commander for the death of her 36-year-old sister and
fellow aviator, Lailuma.
For Lailuma's relatives, there is bitter
irony in the fact that she did not die in combat -- as they had feared. Instead,
she died on July 17 from complications during childbirth at Kabul's Rabia Balkhi
Early Signs Of
Family members say the commander of the Afghan
Air Corps, Major General Mohammad Dawran, should have paid closer attention to
signs of trouble during Lailuma's pregnancy.
"I wanted the commander-in-chief of the Air
Corps to send my sister abroad for treatment. Didn't she deserve to be sent
abroad for treatment?" one of Lailuma's other sisters, who asked not to be
named, tearfully explained to RFE/RL. "The commander goes to foreign countries
for his eye problem -- and even for a simple headache -- every month and year.
Did my sister not deserve it? I called on Dawran to come and transfer his pilot
abroad for treatment."
RFE/RL contacted Dawran to discuss the
allegations by Lailuma's family. He refused to comment on any aspect of the
Maroof Saame, a doctor at the Kabul maternity hospital,
told RFE/RL that Lailuma could have been saved if her complications had been
brought to the attention of medical staff sooner.
Lailuma died of excessive bleeding and high blood pressure. He says her rare
blood type made it impossible -- at a moment's notice -- to get the blood
transfusions she required.
"Unfortunately, the patient [Lailuma]
had Rh-negative blood. And Rh-negative blood is not often available in [Afghan]
blood banks. This type of blood can rarely be found [here]," Saame says. "Her
relatives were extremely affectionate to her and tried their best to help, but
we were unable to find [a sufficient amount of] Rh-negative blood for her. Only
one bag of blood was available for her operation, and her relatives only managed
to get another bag of blood [late that night]."
Afghanistan's Most Dangerous Job
death is an example of what the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF) calls
"one the world's most neglected health problems" -- maternal mortality in
studies suggest that 1.6 percent of all women who give birth in Afghanistan die
during childbirth. That means 1,600 pregnant women die for every 100,000 live
And the Afghan Public Health Ministry says maternal
mortality in some parts of the country is as high as 6 percent.
Kabul-based officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) say poor
roads and insecurity in provincial regions make it difficult for many Afghan
women to be transported quickly to medical facilities in an emergency. A lack of
modern medical equipment -- even in the capital -- also contributes to the
But WHO officials say the biggest contributing factors to
Afghanistan's high maternal death rate are cultural taboos that make many Afghan
men reluctant allow routine medical examinations for their womenfolk.
Lailuma was born in the Shirin
Tajab district of Afghanistan's northeastern Faryab Province. By the age of 20,
during the final years of communist rule in Afghanistan, she had finished her
education at Afghanistan's military university and begun piloting helicopters.
When the fundamentalist Taliban came to power, she was grounded and spent her
days at home -- only venturing outside shrouded in a burqa.
began flying again after the ouster of the Taliban regime -- raising her total
number of flight hours to more than 960.
General Abdul Wahab
Wardak was one of Lailuma's commanders in the Air Corps. He describes Lailuma as
a heroine whose name will be remembered in Afghan history.
"Lailuma's death was a grave loss to our air force," Wardak says. "Lailuma
was a knowledgeable and intelligent pilot of the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
The Afghan Air Corps is very proud of her and will never forget her."
Lailuma's brother, Wahidullah, says she always wanted her pioneering role in
women's aviation in Afghanistan to be recognized by authorities in
He says President Hamid Karzai praised women who trained to
work as pilots in neighboring Pakistan. But Wahidullah says Karzai never
recognized the female pilots in his own country.
Mohammad Qasim --
Lailuma's brother-in-law -- agrees.
"Lailuma wanted to meet Hamid
Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, in person at least once," Qasim says. "But
unfortunately she couldn't do that. Nobody paid any attention to her in Mr.
Karzai's government. They should have sent her abroad for treatment."
Lailuma's daughter, born just minutes before her mother's death, survived.
But family members say they are saddened that Lailuma never had a chance to hold
her baby daughter -- or even to see her face.
this story include Radio Free Afghanistan reporters Hamida Osman and Fawzia
Ehsan in Kabul and RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz in Prague.)
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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