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Children Five Times More Likely to Die in Countries Hit by Health Worker Crisis, Save the Children Finds


New Index Measures the Reach of Health Workers around the World

WESTPORT, Conn. — A new index by Save the Children has ranked the best and worst countries for a child to fall sick in — with Chad and Somalia at the bottom and Switzerland and Finland at the top.

The new analysis measures the nationwide reach of health workers and shows that children living in the bottom 20 countries on the index are five times more likely to die than those further up the index.

“The global health worker crisis is costing children’s lives every day. All the vaccines, lifesaving drugs and preventive care mean nothing when there are no skilled health workers to deliver them to the children who need them most,” said Mary Beth Powers, chief of Save the Children’s newborn and child survival campaign.

The bottom-ranked countries on the new index have extreme health worker shortages – with only an average of 7 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. The World Health Organization says a minimum threshold of 23 such health workers are needed for every 10,000 people in order to deliver essential maternal and child health services. The United States has about 125 health workers per 10,000 people and ranks 15th out of 161 countries evaluated on the index.

What does the health worker index measure?

The index measures not only how many health workers there are but also their reach and impact. It factors in the proportion of children who receive regular vaccinations and mothers who have access to life-saving emergency care at birth. In developed countries, almost all children and mothers are reached with these basic services.

The World Health Organization has estimated the global health worker shortage at more than 3.5 million. In many developing countries, there is not only a shortage of health workers, these workers are often concentrated in urban areas and fail to reach vulnerable mothers and children in rural areas. An additional challenge is that many existing health workers in poorer countries lack sufficient training or support to provide basic lifesaving services.

Save the Children released the new index ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month. There, world leaders will review and announce new commitments on the “Every Woman Every Child” strategy they signed onto last year in order to reduce the 8.1 million child deaths and 358,000 maternal deaths that still occur annually.

“If world leaders truly want a more stable and prosperous world where diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea don’t unnecessarily kill millions of children and where women don’t needlessly die in childbirth, they must act on health workers now,” Powers said. “Working together with developing nations to put more trained health workers on the front lines is the most cost-effective and sustainable investment wealthier nations can make.”

More about the Health Worker Index

The health worker index includes three indicators:

1. a measure of health worker density
2. the percentage of children receiving three doses of the vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus
3. skilled birth attendance rate

161 countries, those with accurate data available, are included in the index. Countries with a population of less than 500,000 were not included.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world.


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