New Report Calls For More Midwives To Help Prevent Millions Of Childbirth Deaths
A new report recommends that governments prioritise funding and support for midwifery amid a global shortfall of 900,000 midwives.

Two in every three deaths in childbirth could be prevented by 2035 if the world starts recruiting and training more midwives, a new report on the “State of World’s Midwifery 2021” has found.

The report, launched by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday found a  global shortfall of 900,000 midwives – and said that the global midwifery workforce needs to be expanded by some 30% to close that gap.

Compiled by the UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), WHO (World Health Organization), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and other partners, the report evaluates the midwifery workforce and related health resources in 194 countries.

It states that for “midwives to achieve their life-saving and life-changing potential, greater investment is needed in their education and training, midwife-led service delivery, and midwifery leadership”.

Governments must prioritise funding and support for midwifery and take concrete steps to include midwives in determining health policies.

“Midwives play a vital role in reducing the risks of childbirth for women all over the world,” said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Increasing their numbers will “deliver a triple dividend in contributing to better health, gender equality and inclusive economic growth,” he said.

The last State of the World’s Midwifery report, published in 2014, also raised the alarm over shortages and provided a roadmap on how to remedy this deficit. But progress over the past eight years has been too slow, the report found. The analysis in this year’s report shows that, at current rates of progress, the situation will have improved only slightly by 2030.

ICM president Franka Cadee said “midwives are continually overlooked and ignored” and called on “governments to acknowledge the evidence surrounding the life-promoting, life-saving impact of midwife-led care, and take action on the report’s recommendations”.

Almost one in five women give birth without a skilled health provider, exposing both mothers and babies to risk,  the report  further found.

It gives the latest stillbirths estimates at about two million a year, along with an estimated 2.4 million new-born deaths and some 295,000 maternal deaths, either during or soon after pregnancy.

Describing the report’s findings as “alarming”, UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem  said 1.1million more essential health workers are needed  to deliver sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn and adolescent health care, and 80 per cent of these missing essential health workers are midwives.

“A capable, well-trained midwife can have an enormous impact on childbearing women and their families – an impact often passed on from one generation to the next,” Kanem said.

The lack of midwives, the report states,  is driven by gender inequality, with countries overlooking sexual and reproductive health and under-estimating the value of a female-dominated workforce.

Fixing the gaps in provision could save an estimated 4.3 million mothers and babies a year, cutting two in three needless deaths by 2035, said analysis conducted for the report published in The Lancet medical journal last December.

The report urged governments to put money into boosting midwife numbers, improving training and offering midwives a greater role in health policy and maternal healthcare.

Image Credits: WHO, WHO SEARO.

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