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Access to skilled midwives, panacea to preventable maternal deaths – UNFPA chief

by Haruna Gimba
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By Asmau Ahmad

The Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Natalia Kanem has emphasised access to skilled midwives as one of the most important ways of averting preventable maternal and newborn deaths.

She stated this in a statement issued on the occasion of the 2023 World Midwife Day in Abuja on Friday.

This year’s edition of the celebration has “Together Again: From Evidence to Reality” as its theme.

She described the occasion as “a moment to champion universal access to skilled midwives as one of the most important ways to avert preventable maternal and newborn deaths.

“If every pregnant woman has access to a well-trained, caring midwife, we would be much closer to a world where every childbirth is safe.”

Kanem, however, said many health systems had continued to treat midwives poorly in terms of pay, working conditions and opportunities to cultivate skills, adding that “a global shortage of 900,000 midwives had reflected the assumption that midwives were not essential healthcare workers.”

According to her, midwives save lives around the globe, and that more mothers and babies survive and thrive in countries that invest in capable midwifery workforce.

The executive director, who reiterated the call for investment into midwifery, said such calibre of health workers provide essential information on sexual and reproductive health, including family planning.

She explained that they also help people to navigate often-sensitive issues in a variety of contexts, including in humanitarian settings.

She added that “midwives are often the only healthcare workers serving people in hard-to-reach places.

“The consequences of not having enough skilled midwives are alarming.’’

The UNFPA boss warned that the decades of progress in preventing maternal deaths had grounded to a halt as a result of minimal investment in midwifery, saying “every single year, 287,000 women globally lose their lives giving birth.

“Also, 2.4 million newborns die and an additional 2.2 million are stillborn. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

She affirmed the imperatives of universal access to midwives, saying it offered the best and most cost-efficient solution to ending preventable maternal deaths.

Kanem stressed the need to close the deficit in the number of midwives around the globe so as to prevent maternal and newborn deaths, “and to save over 4.3 million lives a year by 2035.’’

She reiterated the strong advocacy of the UNFPA for quality midwifery care in 125 countries, including Nigeria, adding that “evidence shows that competent midwives can provide 90 per cent of essential sexual and reproductive health care, yet they are underutilised and in short supply.

“They account for only 10 per cent of those currently providing services.

“Midwife-led care models improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction and reduce costs.”

She pledged the commitment of UNFPA to continue to lead global drive to invest in midwifery, including through the groundbreaking State of the World’s Midwifery report.

“From 2009 to 2022, UNFPA helped countries to educate and train 350,000 midwives in line with international standards to help improve the quality of care they provide.

“More countries today are moving toward Universal Health Coverage, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

She said that such created an opportunity to take a step that was long overdue,
to formally recognise and treat midwives as essential, respected healthcare providers.

Kanem said “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 lives, protect the health and wellbeing of women and newborns and communities at large.”

Every year on May 5, midwives are celebrated for their unwavering commitment to saving lives and ensuring the health and wellbeing of women and newborn babies.

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