Nearly 800 women continue to die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the United Nations spotlighted as it marked the International Day of the Midwife with a call for greater investment to increase the number of midwives and enhance the quality and reach of their services.
Maternal deaths have dropped by nearly 50 per cent, down from an estimated 523,000 in 1990 to some 289,000 at latest count. And according to the UN, midwives who are educated and regulated to international standards can provide 87 per cent of the essential care needed by women and their newborns.
“As we approach the deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we are proud of the progress made for Goal 5, to improve maternal health,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
“But while this progress is welcome, it is not enough,’ he added.
This Day – observed around the world on 05 May with the theme this year Midwives: For a better tomorrow –highlights gaps that need to be addressed in order to provide universal sexual and reproductive, maternal and newborn health care.
This year, in preparation for the post-2015 international development agenda, midwives are being recognized for their critical role in ensuring safe deliveries, promoting healthy birth spacing, and protecting the health and rights of women and girls.
However, a massive midwife shortage around the world exists and has been documented in the State of Midwifery 2014 report. That gap is particularly dangerous when it comes to countries in crisis.
“The need for strong health systems and sufficient health workers was recently highlighted by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where pregnant women struggled to find available health services to ensure safe delivery,” said Dr. Osotimehin.
UNFPA is expanding midwifery services to support resilient health systems in the affected countries. Today, it funds more than 250 midwifery schools with books, training equipment and trained faculty, and has helped train over 15,000 midwives globally. It also supports midwifery in more than 70 countries worldwide, and in 2014 helped launch Bachelor’s degree programmes in midwifery in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Zambia.
In the past four years, more than 35 countries have made national pledges to strengthen midwifery. Ethiopia pledged to quadruple the number of midwives from 2,050 to 8,635, and will achieve this target ahead of time. Bangladesh pledged to train an additional 3,000 midwives, and some 2,000 midwives are already undergoing training at 31 training centres. Haiti dispatched the first group of midwives last year from its new midwifery school built after the 2010 earthquake. And Afghanistan revived and strengthened community midwifery, which has helped reduce maternal death ratios by more than 80 per cent since 2002.
Midwives – and people with midwifery skills – are the main caregivers for women and their new-borns during pregnancy, labour, childbirth and in the post-delivery period. In addition to their work caring for women during and after childbirth, midwives provide a wide range of assistance, including advancing women’s and girls’ rights, care in humanitarian emergencies, training and supervision, and counselling services on family planning and reproductive health.