Pivotal role midwives play in keeping mothers and newborns alive must be recognized – UN

13 October 2016

The first global survey of midwifery personnel has revealed that too often, midwives face cultural isolation, unsafe accommodation, and low salaries, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today, calling for an end to the discrimination and lack of respect that hinder their ability to provide quality care to women and newborns.

“Their voices have gone unheard for too long, and too often they have been denied a seat at the decision-making table,” Dr. Anthony Costello, Director of Maternal, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health at WHO, said in a joint news release, stressing that the important role midwives play in the lives of mothers and newborns should not go unrecognized.

WHO conducted the first global survey of midwifery personnel in cooperation with the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) Entitled, Midwives' Voices, Midwives Realities, it revealed that midwives often feel like their efforts are constrained by unequal power relations within health system.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the online survey included findings from 2,400 midwives from 93 countries, who also reported facing cultural isolation, low salaries, and unsafe accommodation.

With more than 300,000 women dying every year while giving birth, and 2.7 million newborns dying during the first 28 days of life, WHO is advocating for better working conditions for midwives, including stronger education and advocacy around midwifery, because they play a vital role in preventing these deaths.

“Just as we are all committed to the highest quality care for all women, newborns, and their families, so must we be united in our fervour to ensure that the midwifery workforce is supported by quality education, regulation, and safe working conditions,” said Frances Ganges, ICM Chief Executive, adding that midwives must be respected and valued as equally as other professionals.” Based on the findings from the online survey, WHO reports that although many midwives feel they are treated with respect, there are also many dealing with harassment at work, lack of security and fear of violence, which negatively affects their ability to provide quality care.

WHO listed three important steps that need to be taken to improve the lives of midwives, such as provision of professional support, better education and regulation, and advocacy for midwifery.

According to Dr Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator, USAID, "Midwives are essential to providing quality, respectful maternal and newborn care. They are able to prevent and manage many complications of pregnancy and birth and play a crucial role in ending preventable child and maternal deaths."

Midwifery professionals are in need of better salaries, health insurance and social security systems, good living environments, counselling services, stronger education, and recognition of their expertise by global decision makers.

“Midwives are directly responsible for providing reproductive, maternal and newborn health services, yet they are largely absent or ignored from designing policies and programs at all levels. Today, we stand with midwives to call for investment in and respect for midwives and midwifery so that all women receive the quality and dignified care they deserve,” stated Betsy McCallon, CEO, White Ribbon Alliance.


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