Democratic Republic of Congo worst place to be a mother, Finland the best – Save the Children

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the world’s toughest place to be a mother – and Finland the best – according to Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013 - 6:27am

The Nordic countries sweep the top spots while, for the first time, countries in sub-Saharan Africa – where 10 to 20 per cent of mothers are underweight due to poor nutrition or underage pregnancy – take up each of the bottom ten places in the annual index.  


The Mother’s Index, contained within the report, looks at 176 countries around the world that are succeeding – and failing – in saving the lives of mothers and their new-born babies. It assesses mothers’ well-being using indicators of maternal health, under-five mortality, levels of women’s education, income, and political status.


Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children said: “Overall the world has made unprecedented progress in reducing child and maternal deaths. But within this progress there are two big challenges:  newborns and malnutrition.   We can end child and maternal mortality in our generation --  by using tried and  tested interventions to stop mothers and babies being lost from what should be simple preventable causes.

“The G8 in June chaired by the Prime Minister has a critical opportunity to tackle hunger which accounts for a third of child deaths. He must make sure we seize this opportunity.”

The United Kingdom comes 23rd on the list, with fewer women in Parliament and higher maternal and infant mortality rates than much of Europe.  According to the statistics, women in the UK are at a higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth than women in Slovakia, Montenegro and Lithuania.  Reasons include: the age of women having babies – due to teenage and IVF pregnancy rates, the UK has a higher proportion of young and old mothers than much of Europe; poverty and inequality - women with partners who are unemployed are six times  more likely to die from maternal causes than those with partners in work

The situation is significantly worse in the United States, which has by far the highest rate of first day deaths among industrialised nations and has more than twice the amount of first day deaths (11,300) than the entire EU (5,800).

But it is in developing nations where the risk of mother and baby death remains the highest. The Birth Day Risk Index, also contained in Save the Children’s report, compares first-day death rates for babies in 186 countries.  Overall, child deaths have dropped from  12 million to 6.9 million but rates of newborn deaths remaining  stubbornly high: 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.  


A baby in the developing world is seven times as likely to die on its first day than an baby born in industrialised nations. A newborn in Somalia, the most risky country to be born, is 40 times more likely to die on its first day than a child born in Luxembourg, the safest.


In East Asia and the Pacific, progress has been made and the number of new-born deaths is declining. But in South Asian nations such as Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Nepal, child marriage and poor nutrition for mothers are factors in the region’s slow progress in reducing newborn deaths.

In order to combat rampant mother and baby mortality rates within developing nations, Save the Children calls on world leaders to strengthen health systems so all mothers have access to skilled birth attendants. In addition, at the June 8 Hunger Summit in London, the underlying causes of malnutrition, including on tax, transparency and land use, need special attention. 



For a copy of the report, or to request media materials (including photos from the top and bottom countries, b-roll and film packages) Contact Save the Children’s UK Media Unit in London:

+ 44 207 012 6841

Out of hours: +44 7831 650409

Notes to editors:

Other key findings in the annual report include:

  • This is the 14th year of the State of the World’s Mothers report
  • A baby born in the UK has a roughly 1 in 200 change of dying before its fifth birthday, higher than a baby born in South Korea or Israel and the same as Croatia
  • 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



Note on methodology:

Save the Children does not collect original data for the Mothers’ Index. Instead, it uses data from international data agencies with the mandate, resources and expertise to collect, certify and publish national data on specific indicators. The data included in the Index are those most recently published as of March 25, 2013. The UK comparisons contained within this release are based on a lifetime risk of maternal death of 1 in 4,600, and an under-five mortality rate of 5.1 in 1000 (both courtesy of the latest United Nations inter-agency reports).  The UK is more robust than many European nations in collecting infant and maternal mortality data, which may contribute to comparatively higher maternal and infant mortality rates.