Save the Children South Africa, a new and independent arm of the world's largest children's rights organisation, officially launched today with the release of the 2013 State of the World's Mothers report, which shows that every day in South Africa, 21 babies die on their first day of life, mostly from preventable causes.
The report ranks every country in the world based on analyses of the health, education and economic status of mothers and the wellbeing of children to determine the best and worst places in the world to be a mother.
South Africa ranks 77 out of 176 countries on the global index, alongside Ukraine and Brazil. Thanks to the commitment to rolling out anti-rqetroviral drugs and the successful prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, South Africa has made significant recent progress in reducing child mortality.
However, the report also shows that there hasn't been progress in saving lives at the time of birth and that in South Africa, the first day of a baby's life is by far the most dangerous. New research in this year's report shows that every year in South Africa 7,500 babies who are born alive die on their first day. That's 21 babies every day - or almost one an hour. In addition, 3,000 South African mothers die every year due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
But this risk is not equally distributed as, in South Africa more than most, poorer families are disproportionately burdened by the death of mothers and babies before, during and after birth.
Chairman of Save the Children South Africa, Neven Hendricks said, "It is simply unacceptable that in a country that has enshrined children's rights into its constitution, 21 babies die every day on their first day of life. This is why we have established Save the Children South Africa: a new and independent voice to fight to end preventable deaths of mothers and children in our country. South Africa is progressing at great speed in many ways, but the measure of any society is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. And on this measure - we are failing."
Most newborn and maternal deaths in South Africa could be prevented by ensuring that mothers and newborns have equal and fair access to skilled medical assistance regardless of how rich or poor they are. Ensuring access to well-trained and equipped health care workers during childbirth, especially in rural areas, is part of the solution.
Noted singer and mother Tu Nokwe, speaking at the event, said, "Being a mother is never easy. The worrying part is what they don't prepare you for. Mums worry all the time - it is the flipside of the beautiful joy and pride we feel in our kids. But many South African mums have more than their share of worry. Through extreme poverty, HIV and AIDS or the lack of education opportunities, many children are being forced to struggle, sometimes for their lives. Only when we have guaranteed a fair chance at a healthy and successful life for all our children - like the constitution demands - can we all truly celebrate Mother's Day."
In a recorded message of support for Save the Children South Africa, international film star Naomie Harris, who plays Winnie Mandela in the upcoming film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, said, "There are clearly still challenges ahead for South Africa. But, South Africans have won out against adversity in the past and they will again.
She continued, "Save the Children, as the world's largest independent child rights organisation, is uniquely placed to help forge a new path for the country in which the hopes and needs of the children are put first. In the words of Madiba himself - South Africa, "Let your greatness bloom!"