It should be a very special time. However, for many women across the world pregnancy and childbirth are very dangerous periods of their lives. ‘Surviving the First Day: State of the World’s Mothers 2013’ is a report by Save the Children. It was produced on commemoration of Mother’s Day and provides the shocking statistic that 3 million babies die within the first month of life. Most of these deaths are from preventable causes and most die within the first day of life.
Not surprisingly the performance of different countries varies enormously. A baby and its mother in the developing world are at much greater risk. Mothers and babies in sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest risks with Somalia being the riskiest country in which to be born. The safest is Luxembourg.
What’s particularly worrying is the widening gap between the health of the world’s rich and poor. In developing countries babies born to the poorest fifth of the population are on average, 40% more likely to die than those born to the richest fifth.
The report scores countries according to mothers’ and children’s health, educational, economic and political status. It includes five indicators:
- Maternal health – lifetime risk of maternal death
- Children’s wellbeing – under 5 mortality rate
- Educational status – expected years of formal schooling
- Economic status – gross national income per capita
- Political status – participation of women in national government
Finland is the top country out of 176. Followed by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands and Denmark. Spain also does well with a ranking of 7th just above Belgium, Germany and then Australia. France comes 16th, the United Kingdom 23rd and the Unites States 30th. Somalia (175) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (176) hold the bottom two positions.
The inclusion of political status as an indicator comes from the belief that when women have a voice in politics ‘issues that are important to mothers and their children are more likely to surface on the national agenda and emerge as national priorities’ (p. 67).
Participation rates of women in national government (% of seats held by women) include:
Finland: 42.5 %
United Kingdom: 22.6%
In order to address some of the issues highlighted in the report, Save the Children recommends that every mother and every newborn must have access to high-impact care including:
- Trained midwives, nurses and community health workers with appropriate facilities and resources
- Clean cord care for newborns
- Training to help newborn babies survive the ‘golden minute’ – the first moment after birth
- Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding
They would like to see countries increasing their investment in health and take steps to ensure that the direct costs of healthcare are not a barrier to survival.
To read the full report: