May 4, 2010 / 5:15 AM / 9 years ago

Mothers in Norway, Australia have best lives, Afghanistan worst

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Mothers in Norway and Australia are in the best nations in the world to bring up their children while mothers in Afghanistan and many African nations fare worst, according to an annual Mothers’ Index.

An unidentified mother and her baby play at home in London April 26, 2001. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

The 11th annual Save The Children index, which ranks the best and worst places to be a mother, looks at the well-being of women and children in 160 countries which includes access to education, economic opportunities, and health care.

The list last year was headed by Sweden but for 2010 Norway came first followed by Australia, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark with New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany rounding out the top 10.

In the bottom 10, Afghanistan ranked last preceded by Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea. In 2009 Niger was last.

The 2010 list of 43 developed nations and 117 in the developing world highlighted the fact that nearly 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year and nearly 9 million children die before their fifth birthday.

“Conditions for mothers and their children in the bottom 10 countries are grim. On average, 1 in 23 mothers will die from pregnancy-related causes. One child in 6 dies before his or her fifth birthday, and 1 child in 3 suffers from malnutrition,” said a statement from Save The Children.

The United States came 28th in the list, down from 27 last year, largely as its rate for maternal mortality — 1 in 4,800 — is one of the highest in the developed world. The United States also offers less maternity leave than other wealthy nations.

“While the situation in the United States needs to improve, mothers in the developing world are facing far greater risks to their own health and that of their children,” Mary Beth Powers, vice-chair of Save The Children’s Every One campaign, said in a statement.

“The shortage of skilled birth attendants and challenges in accessing birth control means that women in countries at the bottom of the list face the most pregnancies and the most risky birth situations, resulting in newborn and maternal deaths.”

Save The Children said:

* fewer than 15 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel in Afghanistan and Chad with only six percent of births in Ethiopia attended which compared to skilled staff being present at almost every birth in Norway.

* in Niger one woman in every seven dies in childbirth. The risk is one in 8 in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone compared to Ireland where the risk is less than 1 in 47,600.

* in Angola, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, one child in five does not reach his or her fifth birthday. In Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden only one child in 333 dies before age 5.

* a typical female in Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea and Guinea-Bissau receives less than five years of formal education. In Australia and New Zealand, the average woman stays in school for more than 20 years.

* in Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen, women earn 25 cents or less for every dollar men earn. In Mongolia, women earn 87 cents for every dollar men earn and in Mozambique they earn 90 cents.

Save the Children’s Every One campaign was set up with the aim of cutting global child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 with many children under the age of 5 dying of preventable causes.

“More investment is needed in the appropriate training, regulation and equitable deployment and support of midwives and other female health providers, so that mothers, newborns and children in the developing world have access to comprehensive, cost-effective, lifesaving services,” said Bridget Lynch, president of the International Confederation of Midwives in a statement.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Sugita Katyal

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