When it comes to mothers and babies, top spot to be is Sweden

According to a report by the U.S. charity Save the Children, Scandinavian countries lead the stakes when it comes to the top countries to be a mother, while Australia along with the Netherlands ties for 7th place and countries in sub-Saharan Africa dominate the bottom tier.

The U.S. and the UK tied for 10th place.

The annual Mothers' Index 2006 report ranks the best - and worst - places to be a mother and a child and ranks the status of mothers and children in 125 countries based on 10 indicators regarding health and education.

The report examines the link between the health and survival of mothers and babies, focusing on simple, affordable solutions that can help save 3 million of the 4 million newborns who die every year.

Margaret Douglas, CEO of Save the Children Australia, says the report illustrates the direct line between the status of mothers and the status of their children.

Douglas says in countries where mothers do well, children also do well, while in countries where mothers do poorly, children do poorly.

She says in order to improve the quality of life for children, countries must start by investing in the health and well-being of their mothers.

At the bottom of the list is Somalia where more than 1 out of every 7 children die before his or her first birthday, 71 percent of the population has no access to safe drinking water, and 17 percent of children are suffering from malnutrition.

Apparently the situation for Somali mothers is equally dismal:

  • 1 in 10 women dies in childbirth

  • 75 percent of all newborns are delivered without skilled health personnel,

  • and 78 percent of pregnant women have anemia.

The status of mothers was compared in 125 countries based on six indicators of women's well-being and four indicators of children's well-being:

  • a lifetime risk of maternal mortality

  • percent of women using modern contraception;percent of births attended by skilled personnel

  • percent of pregnant women with anemia;adult female literacy rate

  • participation of women in national government

  • infant mortality rate

  • gross primary enrollment rate

  • percent of population with access to safe water, and percent of children under age 5 suffering from moderate or severe nutritional wasting

The Mothers' Index identified female education, the 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.

It was found 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.

The rise in the use of contraceptive means mothers are able to space their births at healthy intervals, and deaths among mothers and children decline.

In the United States, 71 percent of women use modern birth control, 1 in 2,500 mothers dies in childbirth and 7 out of 1,000 infants do not live to see their first birthday.

This compares starkly to Mali, where 6 percent of women use birth control, 1 in 10 mothers dies in childbirth, and 1 in 8 infants dies before reaching age 1.

The Mothers' Index exposes an enormous disparity between the highest- and lowest-scoring countries and underscores an urgent need to address this divide.

In Sweden, which tops the list, nearly all women are literate while in Ethiopia only 34 percent 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 percent of births in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nepal.

Fewer than 5 percent of women use modern contraception in Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

The complete Mothers' Index and State of the World's Mothers 2006 report is available online at http://www.savethechildren.org.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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