Liberia, located on the coast of West Africa, has one the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world. For every 100,000 births, 1,072 mothers pass away in the process. This is due to a shortage of skilled midwives in Liberia.
Forty-four percent of women in Liberia give birth without a skilled birth attendant, putting them at risk for preventable complications like hemorrhage, which is responsible for 25 percent of deaths. In addition sepsis, a life-threatening response to an infection, is also responsible for taking lives in Liberia.
Overall, Liberia has fewer than 200 trained midwives for a population of more than four million people. Additionally, most midwives are located in urban areas that rural women have to travel long distances to reach, hindering the country’s progress in reducing the maternal mortality rate.
According to the World Health Organization, several factors contribute to the extremely low number of trained midwives in Liberia, such as the civil war that wracked the country for 14 years and the recent Ebola crisis.
More specifically, midwives in Liberia often lack safe accommodation and transport, are overworked, paid poorly and are rarely given the opportunity to advance in their careers.
However, the country is working to retain its midwives by building its teaching faculty in a new Bachelor of Science midwifery program. The degree program exists to give greater professional development for midwives as well as help staff in over 700 health facilities across the country.
Part of the program entails working with The Danish Midwives Association, which pairs Danish midwives with Liberian midwives to advance their skills in midwifery care.
“Strengthening midwifery is essential to the provision of high-quality maternal and newborn care for all women and newborn babies worldwide, and is critical to the implementation of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health,” says Dr. Anthony Costello, WHO Director of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.
Several organizations are partnering in a global effort to provide countries with the tools to strengthen midwifery so that maternal and neonatal mortality rates can be reduced.
“UNICEF is working to reverse these trends by collaborating with the Government of Liberia and other partners to increase access and availability of high quality and cost-effective health care for mothers and babies,” according to Yulia Widiati in the article “Saving lives during childbirth in Liberia.”
Collaboration efforts are helping to train traditional midwives and medical volunteers within their communities, giving them the skills to assist and encourage at-risk women to get medical attention at a nearby health facility.
UNICEF also donated 19 four-wheel drive ambulances to rural clinics to equip them in transferring emergency cases to larger hospitals.
Along with UNICEF, WHO is working with UNAIDS, UNFPA, U.N. Women and the World Bank “to strengthen all aspects of providing quality care, including increasing the provision of antibiotics and family planning supplies, supporting community groups to prioritize their maternal and child health needs, and increasing access to water and sanitation in health facilities.”
– Emily Ednoff