Most first-day deaths occur in Africa | Africa | DW | 07.05.2013
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Most first-day deaths occur in Africa

The DR Congo has overtaken Niger to gain the unenviable position of worst place to be a mother, according to a new report by Save the Children. All the bottom ten spots are occupied by countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Finland occupies the number one spot, with its Nordic neighbors filling the other leading positions, according to the report "State of the World's Mothers", issued on Tuesday (07.05.2013) by US charity organization Save the Children International. The report compared 176 countries in terms of maternal health, child mortality, education and levels of women's income and political status.

The report blamed high death rates for babies across sub-Saharan Africa on poor health conditions of mothers. It also highlighted the number of young mothers giving birth "before their bodies have matured", the low use of contraception, poor access to quality healthcare and lack of health workers.

Doctors needed

Health care for mothers in sub-Saharan Africa is woefully insufficient. On average, only half the pregnant women in the region receive skilled care during birth, the report said.

A female doctor examines a little child as a young man watches

Clinics for children in Africa are few, understaffed and ill-equipped

The region as a whole has only 11 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. This is way below the critical threshold of 23 medical staff per 10,000 which is generally considered necessary to deliver essential health services.

After DR Congo, the next worst countries were listed as Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Niger. Rape of women and girls is endemic in conflict-ridden DRC. It is perpetrated by members of the regular armed forces as well as by rebel forces and tribal militias.

Somali women have more than six children on average, the second-highest fertility rate in the world. However, pre-birth care for expectant mothers is largely unavailable in the Horn of African country, Dr. Omar Saleh, a World Health Organization official who frequently travels to health facilities in rural Somalia,  told the AP news agency.

On the positive side, South Africa, Cape Verde and Senegal were some of the best placed countries in Africa.

The Congo factor

In its findings, the report says a woman or girl in the DR Congo, which has been racked by conflict for years, has a one in 30 chance of dying from maternal causes including childbirth. In Finland the risk is one in 12,200.

M23 rebels stand guard outside the Goma football stadium. EPA/TIM FRECCIA

Rebel wars in DR Congo have made the country unsafe for mothers

The report called for investment to bridge the gap in "startling disparities" in maternal health between the developed and developing worlds and for a push to fight inequality and malnutrition. “The bottom line is the political will of governments and the mobilization of the civil society. The population has to make demands on their governments to invest more in health structures and into their education systems,” Natasha Kasoworola Quist, regional director for West Africa, Save the Children International, told DW in an interview.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children International, told the French news agency AFP that investing in the health sector is the key. "By investing in mothers and children, nations are investing in their future prosperity,"  A mother in sub-Saharan Africa is 30 times more likely than a mother in an industrialized country to lose a newborn baby at some point in her life," the report stated.

Medical measures

The Save the Children study identified four potentially life-saving products which it claims could be rolled out universally.

African school children in a classroom

African governments should focus more on education

These are pre-labor injections, resuscitation devices to save babies who do not breathe at birth, drugs to prevent umbilical cord infections and antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

The Save the Children report coincided with an appeal by the Red Cross for 10 million Swiss francs ($10.6 million, 8.2 million euros) to help fund its operation in DRC this year. "What we are observing on the ground is an accentuation of the conflict," International Committee of the Red Cross chief Peter Maurer, who visited the troubled country, last month, told reporters in Geneva.

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