The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has reported that on an average, one woman dies every two minutes as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, with a total of 287,000 women worldwide passing away annually while giving birth. It also revealed that 2.4 million newborns die and an additional 2.2 million are stillborn each year.
UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, who disclosed this in a massage to mark the 2023 International Day of the Midwife, stated that “if every pregnant woman had access to a well-trained, caring midwife, we would be much closer to a world where every childbirth is safe.”
Kanem noted the dire implications of a lack of experienced midwives, and commented that the gains made in the past decades to reduce maternal mortality have stalled.
She said: “Universal access to midwives offers the best and the most cost-efficient solution to end preventable maternal deaths. By closing the deficit in the number of midwives, we could prevent two thirds of maternal and newborn deaths, saving over 4.3 million lives a year by 2035.
“In 125 countries, including Nigeria, UNFPA strongly advocates quality midwifery care. Evidence shows that competent midwives can provide 90 per cent of essential sexual and reproductive health care, yet because they are both underutilised and in short supply, they account for only 10 per cent of those currently providing these services. ..”
“Midwife-led care models improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction and reduce costs. While midwives are often relegated to the periphery of health care, all evidence suggests they should be at the centre”.
The Executive Director bemoaned the fact that many health systems still exclude this predominately female workforce and pay them, provide them with unfavourable working conditions, and limit their chances to develop their skills, all of which are compounded by the worldwide lack of 900,000 midwives. This behavior is based on the false assumption that they are not necessary healthcare workers; however, nothing could be more wrong.
As the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals deadline draws nearer, the importance of investing in and promoting midwifery is becoming increasingly evident due to the stagnation of maternal mortality rates, as noted by Kanem.
“She said: “Around the globe, in countries that invest in a capable midwifery workforce, more mothers and babies survive and thrive. Midwives provide essential information on sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, and help people navigate often-sensitive issues in a variety of contexts, including in humanitarian settings. Midwives are often the only healthcare workers serving people in hard-to-reach places. More countries today are moving towards universal health coverage, in line with the SDGs. This creates an opportunity to take a step that is long overdue: to formally recognize and treat midwives as essential, respected healthcare providers”.
“Every woman has the right to lifesaving healthcare. Midwives are critical to help make that happen. On this International Day of Midwives, let us fully acknowledge the skills and contributions of midwives, and invest in them to safeguard life and protect the health and wellbeing of women and newborns and communities at large.
“The UNFPA has spearheaded a worldwide effort to accomplish this, which includes the groundbreaking State of the World’s Midwifery reports. From 2009 to 2022, UNFPA aided countries in educating and training 350,000 midwives to meet international standards in order to improve the quality of care they offer.
“Every year on this day, we celebrate midwives for their unwavering commitment to saving lives and ensuring the health and wellbeing of women and newborn babies”, she added.