Nepal has significantly reduced child and maternal mortality rates despite a decade-long civil war that has killed thousands of people and setback development efforts, a government study has shown.
A Maoist civil war raged in the Himalayan nation from 1996, resulting in the deaths of over 13,000 people, displacing thousands, ravaging infrastructure and slowing development in sectors such as health and education.
But according to the 2006 Demographic and Health Survey obtained by Reuters on Sunday, infant mortality rates dropped to 48 per 1,000 live births against 79 in 1996, while under-five deaths dropped to 61 from 118 in the same period.
Officials attributed the decline to wider child immunisation coverage and better child health awareness amongst parents.
"This is amazing," said Ram Hari Aryal, a senior health ministry official. "Even in conflict there is such a good improvement."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) was not immediately available for comment on the findings of the survey.
The study found four out of five children between 12 and 23 months of age were immunised against the six critical childhood illnesses -- tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and measles.
While the war ended last year when the Maoists struck a power sharing deal with the government, the survey of nearly 11,000 people said improving children's nutritional status remained a "major challenge".
Nearly half of children under five years of age suffered from stunting due to chronic malnutrition, it said.
The survey also found the number of women dying in child birth every year had dropped by almost half to 281 per 100,000 from 539 in 1996.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies last year listed Nepal among the "deadliest" places to give birth due to high maternal mortality rates.
According to officials, more than 90 per cent women have no access to skilled health workers and deliver their babies at home.
Nearly one third of the impoverished country's 26 million people live on less than a dollar a day.
There are 1,000 doctors and less than 100,000 poorly trained health workers working in Nepal's 1,000 health centres and hospitals.
Sceptics say poverty, illiteracy, cultural taboos, discrimination against women and poor access to skilled health workers continue to plague women's health.
"Further studies need to be conducted in order to explain this drastic decline in maternal mortality ratio," said demographer Ajit Pradhan, adviser to the state-run Support to the Safe Motherhood Programme in Kathmandu.