UN celebrates midwives during COVID-19 crisis because ‘childbirth doesn’t stop for pandemics’

5 May 2020

With many national health systems totally overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, midwives are demonstrating courage and resilience as they support women and newborns in the toughest of circumstances, the head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Tuesday.

In her statement for the International Day of the Midwife, Natalia Kanem praised these health professionals for their tireless work during the crisis because “childbirth doesn’t stop for pandemics, and neither do midwives.”

However, Ms. Kanem observed that although they are the “backbone of maternal health systems”, those in many hard-hit countries are becoming infected and dying due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and overall support.

“Midwives in many health facilities are being redeployed to respond to the virus, and this leaves women without access to life-saving, time-critical services”, she said.

Prioritize maternal and newborn health

Ms. Kanem called for maternal and newborn health to be prioritized as part of overall pandemic response.

She added that the crisis also provides an opportunity to support midwives’ efforts to uphold the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women everywhere.

For example, in countries where these rights and choices are under threat, midwives speak up about preventable maternal deaths and lack of access to family planning.

“They sound the alarm on gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage”, she said. “They drive progress towards gender equality.”

Midwives’ needs

Amid the coronavirus crisis, UNFPA is supporting midwives worldwide by providing supplies of PPE and ensuring that pregnant and breastfeeding women get the care they need, including while under quarantine.

As 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, the UN agency shared ways that the public can also take action on behalf of these vital health workers, starting with informing others of their crucial role in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality.

“Without midwives, many more women and babies will die from preventable causes during childbirth amid the pandemic”, Ms. Kanem warned.

Other suggestions include motivating policymakers to lobby for investments in adequate resources for these workers.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) also has called for people everywhere to take time at noon on Tuesday to clap for the world’s midwives.

Speaking on Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “midwives are essential for guiding and caring for women through their entire pregnancy, and for the critical moment of childbirth”, adding, “but we need more midwives in all countries, especially low-resource countries”.


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