The Rise of Midwifery in Developing Countries Amid COVID-19

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SEATTLE, Washington — As an increasing amount of health funding gets redirected to COVID-19 response programs worldwide, other health care areas in need of aid are feeling the impacts. In April, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported how the pandemic may lead to 47 million women in low-and-middle-income countries losing access to sexual and reproductive health services such as contraception. Moreover, a rise in COVID-19 cases will likely result in pregnant women becoming increasingly wary of health facilities in fear that they might catch the virus. Expectant mothers unfortunately have to worry about the exorbitant cost of delivering a baby on top of it all. As a result, midwifery in developing countries is becoming popular as a safe and cost-effective solution.

The Hefty Cost of a Hospital Delivery

Avoiding the hospital altogether and opting for a skilled birth attendant such as a midwife seems like the way to go financially in countries worldwide. For instance, in the United States, a pregnant woman should expect to pay as much as $11,200 for an avergae birth delivery and $15,000 for a C-section, as calculated by the International Federation of Health Plans. The U.S. stands as one of the most expensive countries to have a baby, though countries with cheaper delivery prices still charge heavily considering the socioeconomic position of its people.

In South Africa, where it costs almost $2,000 to deliver a baby in a health care facility, only a small percentage of the population can afford the cost as a result of income inequality and a lack of health insurance. C-sections are even more expensive. UNICEF calculated that upwards of five million families living in regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean spend more than 40% of their yearly household expenses on maternal health.

The Need for Midwives in Developing Countries

Skilled birth attendants are crucial to the health of mother and baby. Unfortunately the number of attendants present for deliveries is much lower in developing countries. Yemen especially needs the life-saving care of midwifery since the humanitarian crisis has led to the collapse of their healthcare system. Without increased UNFPA funding, Yemen will lose as much as 90% of the reproductive services previously provided.

According to the U.N., 73 countries that hold 96% of the world’s highest maternal deaths rates account for just 42% of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors. In impoverished countries where healthcare facilities are few and far between, midwifery assistance for home births has been life-changing. The World Health Organization (WHO) shared how 87% of all necessary sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health services can be provided by a midwife. Investment in projects increasing midwifery training is essential to the current and future health of mothers and babies in struggling countries. Moreover, trained midwives reduce maternal and newborn mortality rates by 80%, yet a shortage of these professionals persists largely due to a lack of funding that is only exacerbated by the pandemic.

Comprehensive Care

Midwives are not only essential to the health care community through birth delivery assistance. They are also advocates and watchdogs, providing essential before-and-after care, sharing contraceptive education, screening for breast and cervical cancer, caring for childbirth injuries like obstetric fistulas, promoting women’s rights, sharing breastfeeding advice and providing counseling services.  Midwives are so valuable and necessary at this critical time for global health that the WHO has labeled 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, celebrating the comprehensive, life-saving care these professionals give.

Midwife programs such as those provided by the UNFPA and its partner organizations, UNICEF’s Every Child ALIVE and the Perinatal Education Trust work to expand midwifery training in impoverished countries where healthcare is largely inadequate and inaccessible. Still, more support and advocacy is required to continue and expand midwifery training worldwide. As the demand for midwifery in developing countries continues to rise as more people avoid healthcare facilities in fear of COVID-19, midwifery training programs stand as a necessary investment and resource.

To make this a legislative priority, email or call your congressmen and urge them to support the Reach Every Mother and Child Act, which can help save 60 million women and 15 million children. It takes just seconds to make this a priority of your congressional leaders and ensure the health and safety of millions of people.

—Maria Marabito
Photo: Flickr

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