International Day of Midwife;global shortage of midwives stands at 900 000

By Blessing David

The World Health Organization WHO has observed that with the shortage of midwives set to increase to 1 million by 2030 which has serious implications for the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live deaths before 2030, if current trends persist, only 300 000 midwifery jobs are likely to be created in low-income countries.

This was contained in a message by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, in a statement to mark the International Day of the Midwife that is celebrated annually on 5 May.

He said today provides the opportunity to appreciate the efforts of the midwives for their services to mother’s and newborns just as this year marks 100 years of the establishment of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) that have currently 143 Midwives’ Associations representing 124 countries worldwide, including the Confederation of African Midwives Associations (CONAMA), which was inaugurated in 2013.

Dr. Moeti said the role of Midwives who are an integral part of African medicine for centuries, front-line caregivers and backbone of maternal and child health care on the continent, support women through pregnancy and childbirth, providing antenatal, intrapartum and post-natal care, and family planning services, as well as breast and cervical cancer screenings, cannot be overlooked.

He said according to the 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report, by the WHO, the ICM and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the global shortage of midwives stands at 900 000, and is particularly acute in Africa. With estimates that 75% of essential needs for maternal and reproductive health care are met by midwives, it is concerning that the comparative figure for the WHO African Region is only 41%.

He added that Midwives are central to the prevention of maternal and newborn deaths, and stillbirths. Hence adequate investment in midwifery, 4.3 million lives could be saved annually by 2035 which has particular relevance for the WHO African Region, which records about 196 000 maternal deaths each year, along with the deaths of one million babies younger than one month.

For him, the contributions that midwives have to make towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage cannot be overestimated considering that Midwives have been strengthening Primary Health Care for decades, acting as a critical link between women and the health system, and making pregnancy and childbirth safer and more secure.

WHO stress out that if fully integrated into the health care system, and with the necessary enabling support, midwives have the capacity to provide a wide range of clinical interventions, so contributing to broader health goals, to include advancing Primary Health Care, addressing sexual and reproductive rights, promoting self-care interventions, and empowering women.

The African Region’s tragic record of maternal and infant deaths demands urgent interventions to expand the coverage of emergency obstetric and newborn services, along with a revision of the scope of practice to allow more task-sharing and task-shifting to mitigate the shortage of midwives.

He reiterated however that ,WHO in the African Region, was working closely with Member States to improve the quality of maternal and reproductive care as they continue to support the development and implementation of national strategies to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal and newborn illness and death, and to improve every mother’s experience of care, by 2030.

WHO stress on the need for governments and partners to substantially increase investment in the education, recruitment, deployment, retention and protection of midwives as it remains an essential aspect of countries responsibilities. African countries are to be capacitated to increase coverage and quality of maternal services, while still responding effectively to health emergencies.

In addition, WHO advocates for the adoption of policies to combat sexual harassment and promote a safe and respectful work environment, for midwives and other health workers.

WHO also urges governments, academic institutions, civil society and partners to invest in midwifery education, recruitment, regulation and protection as an investment in boosting the number of midwives in Africa will contribute to better health, gender equality, and inclusive economic growth.

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