Midwives could save 3 million lives

U. SOUTHAMPTON (UK) — Each year, 358,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth, two million newborns die within the first 24 hours, and there are 2.6 million stillbirths, all because of inadequate healthcare.

If midwifery services are upgraded in 58 developing countries by 2015, a new study says as many as 3.6 million lives could be saved.

“We collected completely new data on the midwifery workforces in 58 ‘resource poor’ countries where nearly 60 percent of the world’s babies are born,” says Zoë Matthews, professor of global health and social statistics at the University of Southampton.

“What we found were three huge gaps. First, there are not enough midwives. Second, women often cannot access care. Third, and most crucially, there is an urgent need to upgrade midwives’ competencies in places where education, regulation, and support for the profession are not strong.”

The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 shows that unless competencies among existing midwives are addressed and an additional 112,000 midwives trained, deployed, and retained in supportive environments, many of the 58 countries surveyed will not meet their target to achieve the internationally-agreed goal that all pregnant women should have a skilled health worker to assist at the time of birth (as required by United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5 on maternal health).

Among the 38 countries most desperately in need of midwives, 22 need to double the workforce by 2015; seven need to triple or quadruple it; and nine (Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan) need to dramatically scale up midwifery by a factor of between 6 and 15.

If adequate facilities were accessible to deal with complications at their onset, many deaths could be averted—61 percent or nearly two-thirds of all maternal deaths, 49 percent or almost half of stillbirths, and 60 percent or 3 in 5 newborn deaths.

If midwives are in place and can refer the most severe complications to specialist care, up to 90 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented.

“The report points to an urgent need to train more health workers with midwifery skills,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, “and ensure equitable access to their life-saving services in communities to improve the health of women and children.”

More news from the University of Southampton: http://www.soton.ac.uk/