Women in the UK are more than twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than those in Belarus, Poland and Israel, according to new research. The report also found that a child born in the UK is twice as likely to die by the age of five as those born in Slovenia or Iceland.
The results, compiled by Save the Children for their State of the World’s Mothers report 2015, rank the UK as the 24th best place to be a mother. This is the third year in a row that the UK has failed to make the top 10.
Norway, Finland and Iceland top the list, with mother and child mortality rates at half the rate of those in the UK. At the other end of the scale are Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The difference that industrialisation makes is stark: the lifetime risk of maternal mortality is a shocking one in 48 for Sub-Saharan countries; in industrialised nations it is one in 9,750, with the UK scoring a below average rate of one in 6,900. Similarly, under five mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is 81 children per 1000 born. In industrialised nations, it is just four, marginally better than the UK rate of 4.6.
Bucking the trend is the US. It has the worst maternal mortality rate of any industrialised nation at one in 1,800. It also has a markedly higher child mortality rate than similarly developed nations, at 6.9 per 1000 births. And Washington DC ranked last in terms of child survival rate in the capital cities of the worlds’ 25 most developed nations.
“While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm,” say the authors of the report. “There are also huge gaps between rich and poor in Washington. Babies in Ward 8, where over half of all children live in poverty, are about 10 times as likely as babies in Ward 3, the richest part of the city, to die before their first birthday.”
With more people now living in urban areas than rural across the world the report focuses on the gap between the urban rich and poor.
Save the Children International’s chief executive, Jasmine Whitbread, said: “We urgently need to close the gap in life chances for mothers and children so that – no matter where they live – everyone has a fair chance to survive and fulfill their potential.
“For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. People are often drawn to cities by the prospect of a better life for their children, but many cities around the world are unable to keep up with breakneck growth, leaving hundreds of millions of mothers and children in cities without access to essential health services and the clean water they need to survive and stay healthy.
“If the world’s going to complete the task of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, we have to find better ways of getting health care to urban populations, regardless of income. For babies born in many of the world’s fast-growing cities, it’s survival of the richest.”
But the UK’s poor performance is thought to be due to other factors, including high obesity rates in the UK, the growing number of older mothers which increases the risk of mortality, and an increase in IVF treatment. The number of children born to parents aged 40 plus has trebled in the last two decades.
Save the Children also concede that they have changed their criteria since 2012, so the apparent sudden drop in performance for the UK is due to the comparison not being like-for-like.
Patrick O’Brien, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and a practicing obstetrician told the Daily Mail that Britain’s poor rankings may also be due to the particularly detailed data gathered on maternal deaths. Including pregnant women who die in unrelated accidents such as car crashes, and those who die up to a year after birth may have also skewed the results.
“Britain is an incredibly safe place to have a baby,” he said. “The reason the figures sometimes appear higher is because we are so good at chasing up and investigating every woman who has a complication and dies.
“We are never complacent and extremely thorough about learning about any problems that cause death.”