Save the Children Canada

Save the Children Canada

May 07, 2013 00:01 ET

Democratic Republic of Congo World's Toughest Place to Be a Mother, Finland the Best-Save the Children

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 7, 2013) - The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the toughest place in the world to be a mother - and Finland the best - according to Save the Children's State of the World's Mothers report. The Nordic countries sweep the top spots while, for the first time, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa take up each of the bottom ten places in the annual index.

The Mothers' Index, contained in the report, is a unique ranking of 176 countries around the globe, showing those that are succeeding - and those failing - in their support to mothers. It assesses mothers' well-being using indicators of maternal health, child mortality, education, and levels of women's income and political status.

The startling disparities between mothers in the developed and developing world are summed up around maternal risk. A woman or girl in the DRC has a one in 30 chance of dying from maternal causes - including childbirth - but in Finland the risk is one in 12,200. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which performs poorly across all indicators, girls are likely to be educated for eight and half years compared to Finland at the top, where girls can expect to receive over sixteen years of education.

"Research shows the importance of investing in mothers and children," said Save the Children President and CEO, Patricia Erb. "The prosperity and stability of a country improves as women are better educated, have better personal incomes and are politically represented. When women do better their children are healthier and do better in school. It starts a virtuous cycle of development. We have made great progress around the world but much more can be done to save and improve millions of the poorest mothers' and newborns' lives."

The Mothers' Index reveals the United States ranks 30th, behind countries with much lower incomes, such as Lithuania or Slovenia, owing to weaker performance on measures of maternal health and child-wellbeing: in the US, a girl is ten times more likely to die of a maternal cause than a girl in Singapore. Singapore itself is ranked 15th, above countries such as Canada (22nd) and the UK (23rd). But the report shows how all countries need to improve the education and health care of disadvantaged mothers.

The Birth Day Risk Index, also contained in the report, compares first-day death rates for babies in 186 countries. One million babies die each year on the day they enter the world - or two every minutes - making the first day by far the riskiest day of a person's life in almost every country in the world.

This is despite the low-cost interventions that are available to tackle the high rate of baby deaths on the first day of life. Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the most dangerous region to be born - with the deaths of newborns actually increasing there in the past few decades. There, babies are more than seven times as likely to die on the day they are born as babies born in industrialized countries. A baby in Somalia, the most dangerous country, is 40 times more likely to die on its first day than a child born in Luxembourg, the safest.

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the poor health of mothers, where between 10 - 20 per cent are underweight, contributes to high rates of death for babies, as does the relatively high number of young mothers who give birth before their bodies have matured. Other factors are low use of contraception, poor access to decent healthcare when pregnant and a severe shortage of health-workers.

In East Asia and the Pacific, progress has been made and the number of newborn deaths is declining. South Asia, Bangladesh and Nepal have made significant progress in reducing newborn deaths, but in other countries including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, child marriage and the poor nutritional status of mothers are factors in the regions' stubbornly high levels of newborn deaths.

Industrialized Countries

In the industrialized world, the United States has the highest first-day death rate. The U.S. has approximately 50 per cent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined, due, in part, to higher premature birth rates.

Compared to top-ranked countries, Canada could be doing better. While the United States has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world, Canada and Switzerland have the second and third highest rates, respectively. Newborns in these three countries are at least four times as likely to die on the day they are born as babies born in the lowest mortality countries where first-day death rates are at or below 0.5 per 1,000 live births.

While the data are not conclusive, it is clear that significantly higher child mortality rates in the remote north contribute to Canada's lower ranking. More research still needs to be done to determine the precise causes for these rates - and for the regional variation one finds across the country - so that proper public health policies and investments in health systems can be implemented. Save the Children strongly believes that Canada should - and has the capacity to - do much better to support newborn lives.

The report identifies four lifesaving products that can be used to save lives in the developing world: corticosteroid injections to women in preterm labour to reduce deaths caused by newborns' breathing problems; resuscitation devices to save babies who do not breathe at birth; chlorhexidine cord cleansing to prevent umbilical cord infections; and injectable antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

Save the Children calls on world leaders to:

  • Strengthen health systems so mothers have greater access to skilled birth attendants. They can provide lifesaving interventions to all mothers and children, in addition to providing more funding for maternal, newborn and child health programs. More should be invested in frontline healthcare workers and community health workers to reach the most vulnerable mothers and babies.
  • Fight the underlying causes of newborn mortality, especially gender inequality and malnutrition. Helping mothers become strong and stable - physically, financially and socially - makes their children stronger and more likely to survive and thrive.
  • Invest in low-cost solutions that can dramatically reduce newborn mortality. Proper cord care and newborn/paediatric doses of antibiotics can prevent and treat simple but deadly infections. Exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact (known as "kangaroo mother care") should be encouraged. Such practices cost very little but can save hundreds of thousands of babies' lives each year. Additionally, birth attendants should be trained and given proper support and supplies.

To read the report click here:

Notes to Editors

Other key findings of the annual report include:

  • This is the 14th year of the State of the World's Mothers report.
  • The top 5 countries in the global mothers' ranking are: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands. The bottom five (in descending order) are: Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and the DRC.
  • Two thirds of all newborn deaths occur in just 10 countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Tanzania.
  • With 98 per cent of all newborn deaths occurring in developing countries, a gap between the health of the world's rich and poor is persistent and widening.
  • In many countries, the mortality gap between rich and poor has widened despite falling national rates.
  • Newborn health funding doesn't match the need. While overseas development assistance for maternal and child health doubled between 2003 and 2008, only six per cent of the funding, in 2008, went to activities specifically focused on newborns and only 0.1 per cent targeted newborns exclusively.

About Save the Children

As the world's leading independent child rights organization, Save the Children's mission is to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives. We work to create a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation. Learn more about our work at

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