The head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today called on governments to support midwives in their communities, stressing that these skilled professionals are vital in a world where every minute a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth.
“The presence of a midwife at birth can mean the difference between life and death,” Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said in a message to mark the International Day of the Midwife, observed on 5 May.
“Having a skilled professional at birth protects the life of the mother and the child by recognizing problems early, when the situation can still be controlled, and by intervening quickly,” she stressed.
UNFPA says an additional 350,000 midwives are needed to improve maternal health, reduce child mortality and combat HIV.
“Addressing this shortage is also critical to achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015,” noted Ms. Obaid.
The Fund has been supporting a number of efforts in this regard, including a new initiative launched last year with the International Confederation of Midwives to address the shortage in more than 30 developing nations.
The three-year project focuses on training midwives, developing practice standards, and strengthening national midwifery associations. It is estimated that skilled attendance at delivery, backed up by emergency obstetric care, could reduce the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth by about 75 per cent.
“Our joint efforts are having results,” stated the Executive Director, noting that in Laos, for example, a country of more than 5 million people and only 86 midwives, a government plan to address maternal mortality includes strengthened midwifery training, as none currently exist.
Ms. Obaid called on governments to contribute to this joint effort by providing funds to the Maternal Health Trust Fund and by supporting these critical health workers in their communities.