Across the globe, almost three million children a year die in their first week of life and 99% of these deaths happen in developing countries. A million babies don’t even make it through their first day. Low cost solutions could prevent the vast majority of these deaths.
Olga Fernández Baz
According to figures from Save the Children’s latest report, The State of the World’s Mothers 2013, Finland tops the rankings of the best countries in which to be a mother, followed by Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is bottom of the list, preceded by other Sub-Saharan African and South-Asian countries.
The figures speak for themselves. In Finland, one in 12,000 mothers are at risk of death during pregnancy, and one in 345 infants die before reaching the age of five.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo however, one in 30 mothers are at risk of death during pregnancy, and one in every 6 children fail to reach their fifth birthday.
In the charity’s rankings of the best and worse places to be a mother, Spain is at number 7 and the UK is at number 23. Argentina tops the rankings of Latin American countries at position 36, followed by Costa Rica (41), Mexico (49) and Chile (51).
Honduras, Paraguay and Guatemala are lower on the list, at positions 111, 114 and 128 respectively; Cuba, at number 33, is the highest ranking Caribbean country on the list.
The figures are drawn from the charity’s Mothers’ Index, which takes into account indicators such as the level of education, economic, health and political status of mothers, and the wellbeing of children in 176 countries.
In 80% of cases infant mortality is linked with premature births, serious infection and complications during childbirth. At the root of the problem are incomplete medical services sustained by inadequately trained staff with scant resources.
According to the report, universal access to low cost and low-tech solutions costing less than just 6 dollars could save the lives of more than a million babies per year.
Steroid injections for women in preterm labour, resuscitation devices for babies with breathing difficulties, use of chlorhexidine (to fight umbilical cord infections) and injectable antibiotics are just some of the available low cost solutions.
The comparison between ranking positions in the Mothers Index and statistics relating to birth and fertility rates in different countries highlights the inverse relationship between the two measures.
The lowest birth rates (births per year for every 1000 inhabitants) are found in the most developed countries, with values of less than 20 per thousand. Conversely, countries in Sub-Saharan and central Africa have values of around 40.
The same effect can be seen in the fertility index (number of children born per woman). According to the UN Statistics Division in 2012 the highest numbers of children are found in countries with worse conditions for mothers: Niger has the highest number of children per woman at 7.1, followed by Somalia with 6.4. The lowest figures are found in developed countries with an average of between 1 and 2 children per woman: the lower limit of the number of births needed for generational replacement.
These patterns and behaviours can be explained by the varying social standards, cultural norms, and the political and economic status of women in different countries, contributing to differing views of motherhood.
For a mother in a developed country, the decision to have a child is a free choice and is often planned according to the woman’s career development and economic status. Meanwhile, in developing countries a child is relied on for economic support, contributing to the survival of the wider family.
Variations between countries
In spite of sharing low birth rates, a low average number of children is not linked with a rise of the age at which a mother has her first child (30 years old): not all developed countries show the same demographic tendencies.
The variance is more likely to be related to levels of immigration and reproduction in the destination country than the behaviours common to the country of origin, as well as availability of state support for families, and access to and use of contraceptives.
Spain is just behind, with a fertility rate of 1.36, much lower than 2, which is the figure found in countries at the top of that ranking.
Most Latin American countries have similar fertility levels to those at the high end of the European scale. There are exceptions, however, with Honduras and Guatemala showing higher rates, of around 3 children per woman.
(Translated by Claudia Rennie – Eemail: firstname.lastname@example.org)