Save the Children’s report: Finland the world’s best place to be a mother

7.5.2013

The 2013 edition of Save the Children's report "State of the World's Mothers" focuses on on the survival of children during the first critical days after birth.

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.

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 the risk of a girl/woman of dying from maternal causes (including childbirth), child mortality among children under 5 years of age, education level of children, income level in the country and women’s political status. In Finland, the situation is excellent in terms of all these criteria.

There are startling disparities between mothers in the developed and developing world.  A woman or girl in Democratic Republic of the Congo 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, children are likely to be educated for eight and half years compared to Finland at the top, where children can expect to receive nearly seventeen years of education. 

Hanna Markkula-Kivisilta, Secretary General, Save the Children Finland said: “By investing in mothers and children, nations are investing in their future prosperity. If women are educated, are represented politically, and both women and children have access to good quality healthcare, then they and their children are much more likely to survive and thrive – and so are the societies they live in.  Huge progress has been made, but much more can be done to save and improve millions of the poorest mothers and newborns’ lives.”  

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 minute – 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 industrialised countries.  According to the report, the risks are the biggest in Somalia, the most dangerous country, where a baby 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 Asia, Bangladesh and Nepal have made significant progress in reducing newborn deaths, but in other countries including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, child marriage and poor nutritional status of mothers are factors in the region’s stubbornly high levels of newborn deaths.    

The State of the World’s Mothers report identifies four lifesaving measures that can be used universally:

1. corticosteroid injections to women in preterm labour to reduce newborns’ breathing problems that may lead to death

2. appropriate resuscitation to save babies who do not breathe at birth

3. chlorhexidine cord cleansing to prevent umbilical cord infections

4. injectable antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

Save the Children calls on world leaders to:

•  Strengthen healthcare systems so mothers have greater access to skilled birth attendants. They can provide lifesaving interventions to all mothers and children. More funding should be provided for maternal, newborn and child healthcare programmes. More should be invested in frontline healthcare workers and community health workers.

•  Fight the underlying causes of newborn mortality, especially gender inequality and malnutrition. Helping mothers become strong and stable – physically, financially and socially – make 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 proper treatment of newborns with 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.