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Report: Millions of Maternal and Child Deaths Can Be Prevented

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A mother carries her baby wrapped in a blanket in Beijing.

FILE - A mother carries her baby wrapped in a blanket in Beijing.

The international aid agency Save the Children says millions of maternal and child deaths can be prevented by improving access to health care and other essential services. The agency’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report ranks 178 countries on how likely mothers are to survive childbirth.

Save the Children reports 800 mothers and 18,000 young children die from largely preventable causes every day. It said more than half of these deaths occur in high-risk places of conflict and natural disaster.

The agency’s 2014 Mother’s Index Rankings of 178 countries bears this out. Finland is the best place to be a mother, followed by other European and Western countries in the top 10. Somalia is at the bottom, along with nine other African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and the Central African Republic, that rank as the worst places for maternal and child survival.

For example, the report notes one Chadian woman in 15 is likely to die because of pregnancy, compared with one Swedish woman in 14,000. And, it notes, a child in Sierra Leone has one chance in five of not living until age five, compared with an Icelandic child, where the risk is one in 435.

The director of Save the Children in Geneva, Anita Bay Bundegaard, told VOA these rankings do not change much from year to year. She said the same sub-Saharan African countries continue to appear on the bottom of the list.

“They have a recent history of armed conflict. They are considered to be fragile states and many of them are also affected by recurring natural disasters… What we need to ensure in those countries are that mothers and newborns have access to high quality health care… We also need more investment in women and girls to ensure that they are better protected during emergencies,” said Bundegaard.

Bundegaard agrees it is difficult for countries wracked by war, instability and extreme poverty to provide the care needed to save new mothers and young children. But, she said, it can be done if governments have the political will.

She cited the examples of Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Nepal, which have greatly reduced mother and child deaths through sustained political and financial commitment. All three are either in conflict or rebuilding from conflicts.

She said these countries also have improved access to education for girls, which protects them from getting married at an early age. She said girls who have babies at a young age are at greater risk of dying and losing their babies.

“It also a very simple thing like training midwives, to have a very good and high immunization coverage or it can be to remove user fees so that people do not have to pay to get access to health care. These are some of the things that we have seen in Afghanistan, in Nepal, in Ethiopia where things are considerably changed and improved,” said Bundegaard.

The report notes concerted efforts by Afghanistan and Ethiopia have reduced maternal deaths by almost two-thirds since 2000. The Mothers Index also shows that some Western countries are not doing as well as they should and are falling behind other wealthy countries.

It finds the United States, which is ranked 31, is among countries that have made the least progress since 2000 on maternal and child survival. It said the risk that a 15-year-old girl in the U.S. will die during her lifetime from a pregnancy-related cause has increased by over 50 percent since 2000, and American women face the same risk of maternal death as those in Iran or Romania.