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Democratic Republic of Congo worst place to be a mum


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 annual State of the World’s Mothers report.

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.

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 in the annual index.

A woman or girl in the DRC has a one in 30 chance of dying from maternal causes – including childbirth – but in Finland the risk is one in 12,200.

Rose's son was not breathing when he was born in a hospital in DRC. Nurses managed to resuscitate him. (photo: Jodi Bieber/Save the Children)

Nutrition key

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the poor health of mothers, where between 10–20% are underweight, contributes to high rates of death for babies, as does the relatively high number of young mothers.

Other factors are low use of contraception, poor access to decent healthcare when pregnant and a severe shortage of health-workers.

While East Asia and the Pacific have made progress in cutting new-born deaths, 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.

G8 must act

In order to combat rampant mother and baby mortality rates within developing nations, we’re calling on world leaders to strengthen health systems so all mothers have access to skilled birth attendants.

In addition, ahead of the 8 June Hunger Summit in London, the underlying causes of newborn mortality – especially gender inequality and malnutrition – need special attention.

Britain lagging behind

The UK 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, the UK now has a higher rate of under-five child death than 21 other European countries, including countries with lower GDPs such as Cyprus, Portugal and Czech Republic.

Women in Britain are at a higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth than women in less wealthier countries like Slovakia, Montenegro and Lithuania.

Some of the reasons behind Britain’s relative low position on maternal and infant mortality include:

  • the age of women having babies – due to teenage and IVF pregnancy rates, the UK has a higher proportion of young and older mothers than much of Europe
  • the poor health status of some pregnant women, including suffering from obesity or cardiac disease
  • 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.

Mums in poorest countries at most risk

Brendan Cox, our Policy Director, said: “This ranking reminds us that even in wealthy countries, there will be higher rates of mortality in the poorest communities and no country should be complacent.

“The situation is, of course, far worse in the poorest countries where many more mothers and babies are lost from what should be simple preventable causes.

“Save the Children is calling on the UK government to make sure that universal access to healthcare and better nutrition is a priority at home and abroad.”


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