Mothers fare best in Sweden and worst in Niger, index reveals

Posted: 13 November 2003

Sweden, Denmark and Norway are the world's best countries to be a mother while women and their children fare worst in poor African countries such as Niger and Ethiopia, according to the fourth annual Mothers' Index released by Save the Children USA.

The State of the World's Mothers 2003 report includes the complete Mother's Index and country rankings.The Mothers' Index compared the status of mothers in 19 industrialised nations and 98 countries in the developing world based on 10 factors relating to women's and children's health, education and political status.

Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Finland were ranked in the top five countries respectively for mothers, followed by Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Austria and the United Kingdom. The United States ranked 11th on the Index, failing to make the top ten because higher-ranked nations, on average, have lower maternal and infant deaths.

The study ranked poor countries Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Guinea-Bissau at the bottom of the list follwed by Yemen, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Chad and Angola.

Education factor

The Index found that a mother's level of education of education and access to family planning services was strongly associated with infant survival and well-being. In the United Kingdom, for example, where 82 per cent of women use modern birth control, only 1 in 5,100 mothers will die in childbirth and only 6 out of 1,000 infants do not make it to their first birthday. These figures contrast sharply with statistics from Guinea where 4 per cent of women use birth control, 1 in 7 mothers die in childbirth and more than 1 in 10 infants die before reaching age one.

The Index also exposed an enormous gap between the highest- and lowest-scoring countries, underscoring an urgent need to address this divide. In Sweden, which tops the list, 99 per cent of women are literate. Meanwhile, in Niger, which finishes last, only 8 percent of women are literate. And in Iraq, a mother is 35 times more likely to see her child die in the first year of life as is a mother in Sweden

"The Index confirms what 70 years of experience have taught us - the health and well-being of children is directly linked to the health and well-being of their mothers," said Charles MacCormack, Save the Children president. "More than 10 million children under age 5 die each year - most from preventable causes. Those that survive are often left with few opportunities to realize their potential. By providing mothers with three tools - education, economic opportunity, and health care, including access to family planning - we can help them break through the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of their children."

"At a time when federal funding for global health programs, particularly maternal health, child survival and voluntary family planning programs, is threatened with cuts, we urge the US government and the global community to renew their commitment to the world's mothers," said MacCormack. "The well-being of children depends on it."

The status of mothers was compared in 117 countries based on six factors of women's well-being (lifetime risk of maternal mortality, per cent of women using modern contraception, per cent of births attended by trained personnel, per cent of pregnant women with anemia, adult female literacy rate, and participation of women in national government) and four factors of children's well being (infant mortality rate, gross primary enrollment ratio, per cent of population with access to safe water, and per cent of children under age 5 suffering from moderate or severe nutritional wasting).

In terms of a child's well-being, Afghanistan finished in last place. There, 165 infants out of every 1,000 died before their first birthday while 71 per cent of children were not enrolled in school and 87 per cent of the population was without safe water.

Related link:

State of the World's Mothers 2003 report