Maternal deaths and child mortality can be dramatically cut when efforts are made to improve services for mothers and children during humanitarian crises, Save the Children revealed in new research published today. According to the State of the World’s Mothers (SOWM) report, investing in girls and women will help ensure mothers have the vital support they need to care for their children following any calamity.
This year’s SOWM report focuses on mothers in humanitarian crises — in order to better understand and respond to their needs. Conflict-ridden Afghanistan and Ethiopia have reduced maternal deaths by almost two thirds since 2000, according to the international NGO’s SOWM Index. Afghanistan has grappled with armed conflict for decades. Just three years ago, it ranked at the bottom of the annual Index, but by training midwives, improving immunisation coverage and raising girls’ education levels, it has markedly improved women’s and children’s health. Ethiopia leads the way in mainland Africa. Since 2000, it has reduced maternal deaths more than any other country on the continent.
The Mothers Index scores countries on mothers’ and children’s health, educational, economic and political status. Of the 178 countries surveyed this year, Finland continues to be the best place to be a mother while Somalia is at the bottom. India’s ranking, this year, is at 137. Last year, India ranked 142 out of 176 countries.
“In India, and across the densely populated South Asia region, we can save mothers’ and children’s lives despite the effects of a humanitarian crisis,” avers Chief Executive of Save the Children, Thomas Chandy. He cited that, during 2013, Save the Children was among the first NGOs to provide relief in flood-hit Uttarakhand and cyclone/flood-devastated Odisha and maintains that it would “also be among the last to leave.” One of the stand-out features of its relief work has been the introduction of Child-Friendly Spaces, where children from affected communities can continue learning and access recreational facilities too. Its health services have been focussed on the most marginalized women and children.
More than half of all maternal and child deaths occur in fragile states or countries affected by conflict like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Afghanistan. The vast majority of mothers’ and children’s deaths occur because of crumbling infrastructure, lack of access to essential equipment or because of the lack of a skilled health workers during childbirth.
“Worldwide, women and children are often much more likely than men to die in a disaster, whether man-made or natural,” says Chandy. “And each year, thousands more mothers and children die in conflict-settings than fighters do in battle. We urgently need to increase access to healthcare in places where state capacity is weak and conflict and insecurity is widespread. All children have the right to survive, no matter where they are born. Many of these deaths are avoidable, and we can help to prevent them with the right plans and investments before, during, and after a crisis has hit or fighting has intensified.”
Countries with fragile institutions and conflict, often combined with natural disasters, are those where mothers fare the worst. Seven different countries, including the DRC, Niger, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau —all still in the bottom ten — have placed last on the index since it was launched in 2000. Six of these have a history of conflict and all, except Guinea-Bissau, suffered recurring natural disasters over the same period.
Save the Children is calling upon States, donors and civil society to:
– Build stronger institutions and promote early action, social protection, disaster risk reduction and strong health systems that provide universal health coverage and provide for the most vulnerable;
– Ensure access and the right to quality healthcare;
– Invest much more in women and girls and ensure their protection;
– Design emergency interventions with a longer-term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind;
– Ensure adequate financing, coordination, and research to guarantee the above can be accomplished.
Save the Children works with the government and other NGOs to ensure that relief reaches those who need it the most, at the earliest and that support for recovery is provided to and with support of the communities that have been affected.