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Sub-Saharan Africa, world’s worst place to be a mum

Eight of the world’s 10 worst countries to be a mother are in Sub-Saharan Africa, a new study by a global children’s charity reveals.Save the Children’s annual Mothers Index, which ranks the world’s best and worst places to be a mother, put Afghanistan as the worst country, followed by Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea. Norway, Australia, Iceland and Sweden come top.

Save the Children put together the chart after looking at a range of factors affecting women and children’s health and well-being, including access to health care, education and economic opportunities. Norway came top because women there are paid well, have easy access to contraception and the country has one of the best maternity leave policies. Afghanistan was ranked bottom, because of its high rates of infant deaths and the fact that it had the lowest female life expectancy and the world’s worst rate of primary education for girls."The shortage of skilled birth attendants and challenges in accessing birth control means that women in countries at the bottom of the list face the most pregnancies and the most risky birth situations resulting in newborn and maternal deaths," Save the Children's Mary Beth Powers told Agence France Presse news service.

In Niger, one in seven women dies in pregnancy or childbirth and one in eight in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, which compares with a one in 25,000 risk in Greece and one in 47,600 in Ireland. In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than half of deliveries are at home with no skilled birth attendant present, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. "The problems around maternal and newborn health have been raised for many years, but there still remains so much to be done," Houleyemata Diarra, Save the Children's newborn health regional adviser for Africa, told United Nations news service IRIN. "There are not enough skilled attendants at births, and governments are not taking into account where health workers are needed - in communities."

Save the Children is asking governments to build a workforce of trained, well-paid female health workers to work in their communities and local clinics. The cost of training a doctor or running a hospital is huge, but the cost of training community health workers - to diagnose and treat common early childhood illnesses, organize vaccinations and promote good nutrition and newborn care doesn’t need to be, the organisation said.  In Bangladesh, for example, it found that giving female community health-workers six weeks of hands-on training and some formal teaching improved child death rates by a third. It said there are a lot of countries working around the world, where this idea is working and African countries need to follow these examples, it said.

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