UN-endorsed initiative to train midwives could save hundreds of thousands of lives

A midwife examines a pregnant woman at a clinic

22 September 2008 – With half a million women dying in pregnancy or childbirth every year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) have launched an initiative which could help cut mortality by about 75 per cent by training midwives in developing countries.

“By investing in midwives and universal access to reproductive health, millions of lives can be saved and we can reach Millennium Development Goal 5, to improve maternal health,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said in a news release today, referring to one of eight goals thatBy investing in midwives and universal access to reproductive health, millions of lives can be saved seek to slash a host of social ills by 2015. Beyond the deaths millions more women suffer long-lasting harm due to lack of care.

An additional 334,000 midwives are needed, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). The UNFPA-ICM programme will increase the number of births attended by professional midwifery providers and develop the foundations for a sustainable midwifery workforce in selected developing countries.

Its focus will be on training midwives, developing practice standards, and strengthening national midwifery associations. It is estimated that skilled attendance at delivery, backed up by emergency obstetric care, could reduce the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth by about 75 per cent.

Every year half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth and 10 to 15 million women suffer serious or long-lasting illnesses or injuries. In addition, 3 million newborns die during the first week of life and another 3 million are stillborn. Many of these deaths and disabilities could be prevented if all births were attended by midwives.

The $9-million initiative will start in 11 of the hardest-hit countries with the highest levels of maternal deaths and disability and the lowest rates of births attended by skilled workers – Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia. It will then expand to include 30 countries and, if funding permits, even more.

The three-year project is funded by the Netherlands and Sweden and will be implemented by ICM and UNFPA offices in the selected countries.

“We need some strong advocates who can call on governments to invest in much needed midwives,” ICM President Bridget Lynch said. “But we also need to work with governments to ensure the scaling up and quality of midwifery services. They need to take ownership.”

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Investing in midwives crucial to improving maternal health, stresses UN official

Related Stories