Study: Swedish Moms Have Best Conditions

An index that measures the status of mothers around the world put four Scandinavian countries at the top of the list. The bottom 10 nations are all in Africa.

A report issued today by the Save the Children foundation ranked countries on the basis of mothers' access to health care, use of contraception and family planning, literacy rate and participation in government.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland led the list followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Austria, Australia and Britain. The United States was 11th.

The 10 countries at the bottom of the 94 are, with the worst first, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Yemen, Gambia, Burundi, Mauritania, Central African Republic and Benin.

Mothers Matter Most

"The findings confirm what Save the Children has learned through 70 years of experience: that it we care about children we must turn to the experts — their mothers," said Charles MacCormack, the foundation's president.

"When countries take measures to ensure that mothers are healthy, well-educated and well-nourished they vastly increase the likelihood that their children will do well."

The report was issued to coincide with Mother's Day, which is this Sunday in the United States. The date varies in other countries.

The report said among the factors studied investments in safe motherhood programs and in education for girls and women are perhaps the most essential.

"However, gender-based violence and the rising tide of HIV/AIDS continue to undermine efforts to improve the lives of women and girls," the report said.

Chasm Between First and Third Worlds

The health and survival of mothers and children, the study said, are most closely associated with a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth. Availability of these services is dramatic, the analysis added.

"In Ethiopia, for instance, only 10 percent of births are attended by trained health personnel, two percent of women use modern contraceptives and 118 infants out of 1,000 die before their first birthday," the report said.

In Sweden, by contrast, trained personnel attend virtually all births, 71 percent use modern contraception and 3 out of 1,000 children die before their first birthday.

In addition, the lifetime risk of a woman dying in childbirth is more than 600 times greater in Ethiopia than Sweden.

The report contains, for the first time, a "girls' investment index," which measures among other indicators infant mortality rates, nutritional status, primary school enrollment and access to safe water.

In this category Sweden and Finland tied for first while the United States came in 22nd, primarily because of its high teen pregnancy rate.