UN Calls for More, Better Trained Midwives

In a study that should surprise few in the women’s health advocacy community, the United Nations called for “more and better trained” midwives to address the maternal and infant mortality crisis that affects many developing countries, particularly those in Africa.

“We have now realized that there is a huge potential in the hands of the midwives that was not being exploited. They can do much more than deliver babies. They can deliver health services,” said Vincent Fauveau, the doctor who coordinated the United Nations Population Fund’s study of 58 countries.

The midwives who do work in developing countries often have an enormous workload, sometimes handling 10 to 15 deliveries a day.  Midwives should really only tackle 1 to 2 deliveries in a day, according to the UN, both to ensure that midwives don’t suffer from extreme overwork and to make sure that mothers and infants are receiving an adequate level of care.

According to Ros Davies, the CEO of Women and Children First, writing in a piece for the Guardian,

“There are insufficient midwives, so staff work long hours and have few breaks. In addition, they deal with death after death of mothers and babies – a highly emotional experience. Hospital staff report they suffer stress and fatigue from such a relentless workload, which has increased over the last two to three years since government policy began to push for all women to give birth in health facilities, although the supply of hospital beds, drugs and staff has not kept pace.”

These conditions clearly need to change if midwives are going to seek out jobs in the developing world and if their attempts to bring down rates of maternal and infant mortality are to be at all successful.  As the United Nations said, this means recruiting and supporting midwives more effectively, making sure that they’re not exhausted and depressed, and also that they have the tools they need to perform their jobs adequately.  Although, as Fauveau pointed out, this is a “long-term strategy,” not a quick revolution, it’s encouraging to see the UN so explicitly recognizing midwives’ value.

Photo from DavidDennisPhotos' Flickr photostream.

25 comments

Myriam G.
Myriam G.5 years ago

Midwifery Power

Fa'izah J. A.
Jauharah Andrews5 years ago

Women have been assisting other women in the delivery of babies for centuries without formal training in the contemporary sense and more importantly, without the interference of so-called experts. Women's health care is best handled by other women because women know women best.

Amanda M.
Amanda M.5 years ago

Midwives are a valued part of the reproductive-health community, and it's about time SOMEBODY realized that!

Unfortunately, even in this county, midwives are often driven out of the medical care system by skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates (which is ironic, given that midwives often have safer outcomes and better patient care ratings than OBs do). The hospital in the next county over from us used to have midwives and even a freestanding birth center, but they got driven out by the malpractice rates being jacked up. The hospital basically "threw out" the midwives, yet they had plenty of money to remodel the birthing center and brag about how each room had cherrywood paneling and a hair dryer in the bathroom. What woman in labor is going to give a rat's ass about a hair dryer?!

Midwives provide valuable care to women, not just in childbirth assistance and prenatal care, but also in wellness exams, birth control information, and a simple human touch. We need to see more of them, not just in developing countries, but all over the world.

Roxane Connor
Roxane Connor5 years ago

It is illegal in several states to practice midwifery ( except by a registered nurse) even though health care and access to it are being cut so far back.

Marjaana V.
marjaana v.5 years ago

another thing: folic acid prevents birth defects.

i learned that the hard way.

Marjaana V.
marjaana v.5 years ago

“We have now realized that there is a huge potential in the hands of the midwives that was not being exploited. They can do much more than deliver babies. They can deliver health services,” said Vincent Fauveau, the doctor who coordinated the United Nations Population Fund’s study of 58 countries.

NOW? you're NOW realized this? and there was STUDY to conclude this? are they complete idiots??????

why didn't they just ask the first woman they ran into and use the money for something useful... say, like birth control, education, healthcare?

bloody morons! i truly despair for humanity...

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A.5 years ago

I agree with you Grace, anything to help sustain or save a life is an honourable thing.

Best regards

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Better nutrition helps with most health care issues--not only pregnancy. Eclampsia can be prevented by 60 grams a day of protein for the mother. Vitamin C in generous quantities boosts the immune system. Contraception is certainly cheaper than unwanted children.

AbdulAziz A.
AbdulAziz A.5 years ago

If the women are fed properly they will probably need a lot less help. There needs to be universal food program which will ensure good health of the mothers and they will be fine even with minimal assistance at the child birth.

Can politicians do anything? No they can not as food thrown in the sea is better than sold cheap to keep their margins and profits to the shareholders.

Any inference will result in no backing for their political futures and ambitions.