Mothers and children dying needlessly, says report

Posted: 9 May 2006

The State of the World Mothers' Report 2006, published today, identifies female education, presence of a skilled attendant at birth and access to, and use of, family planning services, as the three areas most strongly associated with child survival and well-being.

Action to address these needs and other simple health interventions can, it says, help save 3 million of the 4 million newborns who die every year.

The Report, published by the charity Save the Children to mark Mother's Day on May 14, shows that Scandinavian countries sweep the top rankings of the best places to be a mother, while countries in sub-Saharan Africa dominate the bottom tier. Austria, Germany,Australia, the Netherlands and Canada are placed ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Mothers' Index illustrates the direct line between the status of mothers and the status of their children. In countries where mothers do well, children do well; in countries where mothers fare poorly, children fare poorly. If we are to improve the quality of life for children, we must start by investing in the health and well-being of their mothers, the report says.

Drinking water

Zeroing in on only those indicators that capture children's well-being, Somalia finishes in last place. More than 1 out of every 7 children in Somalia die before his or her first birthday, 71 per cent of the population has no access to safe drinking water, and 17 per cent of children are suffering from malnutrition. The situation for Somali mothers is equally dismal: 1 in 10 women dies in childbirth; 75 per cent of all newborns are delivered without skilled health personnel, and 78 per cent of pregnant women have anaemia.

As expected, the report finds that women who are educated are more likely to postpone marriage and early childbirth, seek health care for themselves and their families, and encourage all of their children, including girls, to go to school.

As contraceptive use rises and mothers are able to space their births at healthy intervals, deaths among mothers and children decline. For example, in Australia, 72 per cent of women use modern birth control, 1 in 5,800 mothers dies in childbirth and 5 out of 1,000 infants do not live to see their first birthday. Compare this to Mali, where 6 per cent of women use birth control, 1 in 10 mothers dies in childbirth, and 1 in 8 infants dies before reaching age 1. Country comparisons

The Mothers' Index exposes an enormous disparity between the highest - and lowest - scoring countries and underscores an urgent need to address this divide. For instance, in Sweden, which tops the list, nearly all women are literate. In contrast, only 34 per cent of Ethiopian women are literate. And a mother in Ethiopia is 37 times more likely to see her child die in the first year of life than a mother in Sweden.

Compared to a mother in the top 10 countries, a mother in the bottom 10 countries is 28 times more likely to see her child die in the first year of life and over 750 times more likely to die herself in pregnancy or childbirth.

In the bottom 10 countries, nearly 1 out of 3 children is not enrolled in school, and only 1 out of 4 adult women is literate. In the top 10 countries, virtually all children go to school and all women are literate.

Skilled health personnel attend fewer than 15 per cent of births in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nepal. Fewer than 5 per cent of women use modern contraception in Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

Mother's Index

The Mother's Index(based on ranking of 125 countries)*Countries that are tied

Top 10 Countries1. Sweden2. Denmark / Finland*4. Austria / Germany / Norway*7. Australia / Netherlands*9. Canada10. United States / United Kingdom*

Bottom 10 Countries125. Niger 124. Burkina Faso123. Mali122. Chad121. Guinea-Bissau120. Sierra Leone119. Ethiopia118. Yemen117. Central African Republic115. Democratic Republic of Congo/Liberia*

Download the State of the World's Mothers Report2006 here.