Where Do You Find the Healthiest Moms And Babies? Hint: Not the U.S.
Where's the best place in the world, if you measure "best" by the health of mothers? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, it's not the United States. But neither is it Canada or Great Britain or any other of the major players on the global stage. The best place in the world for the health of mothers is -- wait for it -- Norway.
The United States is ranked way down the list -- somewhere below Estonia and Croatia -- at number 28.
According to Save The Children's 11th Mother's Index, the countries that do best by moms are Nordic countries, such as Norway (1st), Iceland and Sweden (tied for 3rd), and Denmark (5th), or Australasian countries, such as Australia and New Zealand (2nd and 6th respectively). Canada (20th) ranked above the United States (28th). (Interestingly -- and helpfully -- Save The Children ranks by tiers: Norway, Canada and the United States are categorized as "more developed" countries and so were ranked together in Tier I. Cuba ranked first in Tier II -- less developed -- and the Maldives ranked 1st in Tier III -- least developed.)
As USA Today reports, Save The Children analyzed "factors that affect the health and well-being of women and children, including access to health care, education and economic opportunities," and that's why, they point out, "Norway came out on top: Women are well paid, have easy access to contraception and are entitled to generous government-mandated maternity leave." By not restricting their focus solely to health care, the report is able to assess a broader range of concerns that have an impact upon maternal health.
Access to health care is important, to be sure, but access to health care can be undermined by other issues, not least financial disadvantage. USA Today goes on to report that the ranking of the United States among more developed countries was influenced its "high rates of maternal mortality (1 in 4,800) and infant mortality (8 per 1,000), low pre-school enrollment (61 percent) and one of the least generous maternity-leave policies in terms of duration and pay."
Save The Children does a tremendous service by drawing attention to the multiplicity of factors that affect maternal health -- after all, health doesn't exist in a vacuum. There's a powerful argument to be made -- and Save The Children is certainly making it and backing it up -- that social and economic health are inextricable from physical health, and that the latter cannot be addressed without attention to the former. This is part of a debate that's going on in Canada right now about the position that the Canadian government will take on maternal health when it meets with other members of the G8 to address this: The governing party of Canada has been indicating that it wants to leave issues related to supporting women's reproductive freedoms off the table, but as many women's groups and aid organizations have been pointing out, the fact that maternal health requires such support is indisputable. Save The Children's Mother Index goes a long way to supporting -- even proving -- this argument. Let's hope that the right people are listening.
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By Karen Ballum