The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has asked Governments and Development Partners to increase investment in the education, recruitment, deployment, retention and protection of midwives as the World celebrates the International Day of Midwives today.
This she said was essential if African countries were to be capacitated to increase coverage and quality of maternal services, while still responding effectively to health emergencies.
Dr Moeti said the African Region’s tragic record of maternal and infant deaths demands urgent interventions to expand the coverage of emergency obstetric and newborn services, along with a revision of the scope of practice to allow more task-sharing and task-shifting to mitigate the shortage of midwives.
The 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report, by the WHO, International Confederation (ICM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that the global shortage of midwives stands at 900 000, and is particularly acute in Africa.
The report says with adequate investment in midwifery, 4.3 million lives could be saved annually by 2035.
The International Day of the Midwife is celebrated on May 5 every year, to provide the opportunity to honour the work of midwives.
It also promotes the awareness of the crucial care that midwives provide to mothers and their newborns.
Dr Moeti said midwives , have been an integral part of African medicine for centuries, and are the front-line caregivers and backbone of maternal and child health care on the continent.
They support women through pregnancy and childbirth, providing antenatal, intrapartum and post-natal care, and family planning services, as well as breast and cervical cancer screenings.
In emergencies, they can also perform basic emergency obstetric care and are central to the prevention of maternal and newborn deaths, and stillbirths.
“Fully integrated into the health care system, and with the necessary enabling support, midwives have the capacity to provide a wide range of clinical interventions, contributing to broader health goals,” Dr Moeti said.
These include advancing Primary Health Care, addressing sexual and reproductive rights, promoting self-care interventions, and empowering women.
She said the WHO in the African Region, was working closely with its Member States to improve the quality of maternal and reproductive care.
“We are supporting the development and implementation of national strategies to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal and newborn illness and death, and to improve every mother’s experience of care, by 2030,” she said.
She said despite significant progress in Africa to reduce preventable deaths related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period, the interruption of services due to the COVID-19 response was only one of several challenges that still remain.
During the pandemic, midwifery has been impacted by restrictive practices introduced in maternal and newborn care to mitigate the risk of cross-infection.
WHO, in collaboration with UNICEF and UNFPA, developed technical guidance for countries to enable continuity of essential Sexual, Reproductive, Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health services, while protecting and supporting midwives.
In addition, WHO advocated the adoption of policies to combat sexual harassment and promote a safe and respectful work environment, for midwives and other health workers.
Dr Moeti futher urged governments, academic institutions, civil society and partners to invest in midwifery education, recruitment, regulation and protection.
She said an investment in boosting the number of midwives in Africa would contribute to better health, gender equality, and inclusive economic growth.
The UNFPA on this day also commends Midwives who have put their lives at risk helping expectant mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said whilst midwives supporting women in childbirth may be the image that immediately comes to mind, they do much more.
In addition to providing antenatal, intrapartum and post-natal care, they provide family planning services and breast and cervical cancer screenings.
Midwives can also perform basic emergency obstetric care when needed.
With counselling and information, they can help prevent female genital mutilation, support gender-based violence survivors and provide reproductive health services to adolescents.