DHAKA, Bangladesh — On June 3, the U.N.’s population fund, the World Health Organization and the International Confederation of Midwives released findings from a study concluding that midwives have the potential to reduce maternal and newborn deaths by up to two-thirds. Not only do they have the potential to reduce death rates, but midwives can also provide 87 percent of the care that mothers and newborns require to survive.
So the question is, why aren’t midwives currently able to fulfill this potential? Unfortunately, most do not receive the training and support required to perform their duties satisfactorily in many impoverished countries.
The U.N. study identified 73 target countries where they will make efforts to improve this training and increase the support necessary in order to avert high numbers of preventable deaths. These countries — located in Latin America, Asia and Africa — are home to 96 percent of maternal deaths worldwide as well as 90 percent of newborn deaths worldwide. These statistics have understandably made these regions an area of focus for health development.
As Frances Day-Stirk, president of the International Confederation of Midwives, explains, “Investing in midwives means investing in midwifery education, so more midwives can be educated and more lives can be saved.”
The emphasis on education will be a key element for this movement to succeed so that every midwife in a community is qualified to handle the complications that come with pregnancy and childbirth.
Between 2003 and 2009, half of occurring maternal and newborn deaths were caused by hemorrhages, hypertensive disorders and sepsis — all conditions that are likely to be prevented when magnesium sulphate is administered. This is a substance that midwives, given the proper training and resources, can administer which will immediately begin reducing risks. The problem is that they aren’t receiving what they need.
Emphasis on midwifery would not only lead to decreases in death rates, it could also mean decreases in population growth. Humanosphere reporter Tom Murphy says, “Midwives are allowed to provide at least one form of family planning product in 71 out of the 73 countries assessed,” allowing them to educate families about safe sexual practices.
Bangladesh has recognized this need for midwives and has begun to educate and deploy 500 midwives within their country with a projected 1,600 percent return. With these methods, Bangladesh has the potential to “help reduce maternal mortality by 80 percent and infant mortality by 70 percent” in their country. Ideally, the 73 target countries will take Bangladesh’s initiative as inspiration and work toward similar reductions.
The U.N. says, “Midwives are the unsung heroes of maternal and newborn health. Indeed they are the unsung heroes of global health.”
The awareness raised by this study may begin to give midwives the attention and the resources they require to substantially decrease maternal and infant mortality rates.