KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo- The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been named by Save the Children as the worst country for mothers in a ranking released in 2013. The nation has been embroiled in armed conflict for the past 20 years, causing the death and suffering of millions of people.
The United Nations also had named the DRC the worst country to be a woman in 2012 due largely to the high rates of rape and sexual assault in the nation, especially by armed militia.
Despite Save the Children using entirely different criteria than the U.N., the DRC still ranks last for women.
The ranking is based on reports of the country having some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality, insufficient education, poverty, and low political participation for women. The DRC ranks 176th on the Mother’s Index for low marks in each of these categories.
Congolese women have a 1/30 lifetime risk of maternal mortality. One out of 168 children under five years of age will die before their fifth birthday. This figure is in stark contrast to top-ranked Finland which has an under-five mortality rate of 1/12,200.
Congolese people can expect to have eight and a half years of formal schooling, compared to Finland’s 17, and the gross national income per capita of the nation is $190.
>Women in the DRC make up 8.3% of legislative seats. In contrast, sharing the same continent with the DRC is the country with the highest political participation by women, Rwanda, which is one of two nations, along with Andorra, that have achieved gender parity in politics.
The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for the Democratic Republic of the Congo reveals that health care professionals routinely require women to get their husband’s permission before receiving any family planning services. Unsurprisingly, use of contraception is low, with 5.8% of women using modern methods of birth control.
Though rape is illegal in the DRC, rape of a spouse is not included in the law, and spousal abuse is not specifically illegal. Domestic violence is rampant.
According to the 2007 Demographic Health Survey, 71% of Congolese women reported experiencing sexual, mental, or physical abuse. In some regions of the country the number was as high as 86% of women. The study found no reports of police protection for victims of domestic violence.
The DRC is not the only African nation to score poorly. African countries consistently rank as the most dangerous to be a mother of a newborn, with Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Niger ranking lowest after the DRC and the rest of the bottom ten coming from Africa.
Save the Children points to malnutrition as a primary cause of Africa’s high infant and maternal mortality rate. The organization estimates that 10-20% of mothers are underweight.
African nations are not the only places where health outcomes for mothers and newborns need significant improvement.
At 30th on the list is the United States, where more than half of first-day deaths in the industrialized world occur. The U.S. also has a one-in-eight preterm birth rate, which is one of the highest in the world. And the maternal mortality rate in the United States is the same as that of Iran.
India has the most maternal deaths of any country, with 56,000 mothers dying each year.
Save the Children states that up to 75% of newborn deaths are preventable with the use of simple, cost-effective care.
Access to antibiotics, the organization says, as well as corticosteroids (to help the growth of preterm babies,) Chlorhexidine (to clean umbilical cords and navels) and resuscitation equipment could save the lives of one million newborns every year.
– Kaylie Cordingley