Access to midwife services are woefully inadequate across 73 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, despite these countries being home to 96 percent of global maternal and newborn deaths. These findings were published this week in the UNFPA State of the World’s Midwifery 2014: a universal pathway, a woman’s right to health report, and highlight the urgent need for greater investment in midwife services.
Midwives play an important role in caring for the sexual, reproductive and maternal health of woman and their newborn children. They are especially important for mothers living with HIV, and play a critical role in the delivery of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services. Around 289,000 woman and 2.9 million newborn babies died in these countries in 2013 alone, highlighting the crucial need for improved midwife services.
Significant improvements have been made since the first midwife report published in 2011, especially in the retention of midwives in remote settings, where the need is often greatest. Improvements in the recruitment of midwives and the collection of relevant data have also been made, with some countries even planning regulatory bodies. Yet still, only four of the 73 countries have sufficient midwives to meet the need for their care and support.
The 2014 report highlights the need for education and regulatory bodies for midwives to meet international standards. This is especially important because data shows that midwives can provide 87 percent of the care needed for mother and their newborns. This will also free up the time of doctors and nurses, a scarce resource in many of these countries. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has championed the role of midwives and stated: “With leadership and resources, the world can prevent the vast majority of avoidable yet tragically common losses of life and address the vicious cycle of impoverishment that ensues.”