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New Report Says Sub-Saharan Africa is Worst Place to Be Mother

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most difficult place to be a mother, according to the organization, Save the Children. The group's 10th annual State of the World's Mothers report says many of the best places are in Northern Europe.

The report is based on indicators of health and well being for women and children in 158 countries.

At the bottom is sub-Saharan Africa, where women often die in childbirth and frequently do not live beyond their mid-40s. The study says Niger is the worst place to be a mother, followed by Sierra Leone, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"A lot of those countries have been affected with a double whammy of AIDS and conflict. The other thing is that in areas where you have early marriage, you have young girls giving birth and that is also associated with high maternal mortality," said Chloe O'Gara, an educational director for Save the Children.

According to the survey, Sweden is the best place to be a mother, as well as other Northern European countries, including Denmark, Finland and Norway. Australia, Iceland and New Zealand also are high up.

Of the developed countries, the United States placed 27th for the second year in a row. O'Gara says that is because of relatively high maternal mortality compared to other industrialized nations. "And it's associated with poverty and it's associated with a lack of health care coverage. It's associated with higher rates of teenage pregnancy," she said.

The report also focuses on childhood education. It says early childhood development increases the chances of children doing well in primary school. The survey says Northern European countries have the highest commitment. Of the developing countries, Cuba and Armenia are on top.

"In both cases, there is a commitment to supporting families with young children, really from the beginning, from pre-natal right until they enter school. So they have parent support groups and education two to three times a week in every community in Cuba for example. They have an extensive system of childcare and kindergartens in Armenia," he said.

The study says children in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind in education because of poverty, poor health care and inadequate schools.

At least 75 million children worldwide are not attending primary school, according to the report. It says girls are often kept out of school in countries such as Afghanistan. "So you have a situation where you have generations of mothers who have less education than mothers in other parts of the world and who are less able to prepare their children for school and to ensure their children's best health and well being," she said.

Save the Children says for children to succeed in school, governments need to increase their support for early childhood education.