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Women’s lives in peril as world faces shortage of midwives

The report said the acute shortage of midwives is "exacting a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths"

A United Nations report released this week warned that women’s lives and their newborns are in peril due to the global shortage of midwives.

The report said the world is currently facing a shortage of 900,000 midwives, which represents a third of the required global midwifery workforce.

It said the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem, with the health needs of women and newborns being overshadowed as midwives are being deployed to other health services.

“The report sounds the alarm that currently the world urgently needs 1.1 million more essential health workers to deliver sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn and adolescent health care,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.

A capable, well-trained midwife can have an enormous impact on childbearing women and their families – an impact often passed on from one generation to the next,” she said.

The 2021 State of World’s Midwifery report, which was released by the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organization, and the International Confederation of Midwives, evaluates the midwifery workforce and related health resources in 194 countries.

It said the acute shortage of midwives is “exacting a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths.”

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The report noted that “fully resourcing” midwife-delivered care by 2035 could avert 67 percent of maternal deaths, 64 percent of newborn deaths and 65 percent of stillbirths. It could save an estimated 4.3 million lives per year.

The report showed that, at current rates of progress, the situation will have improved only slightly by 2030.

It said that gender inequality is an unacknowledged driver in the massive shortage of midwives. Women account for 93 percent of midwives and 89 percent of nurses.

“The continued under-resourcing of the midwifery workforce is a symptom of health systems not prioritizing the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls,” said the report.

“As autonomous, primary care providers, midwives are continually overlooked and ignored,” said Dr. Franka Cadée, president of the International Confederation of Midwives.

He said it is time for governments “to acknowledge the evidence surrounding the life-promoting, life-saving impact of midwife-led care.”

The report clarified that midwives do not just attend births but also provide antenatal and postnatal care and a range of sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, detecting and treating sexually transmitted infections, and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents.

The launch of the 2021 State of World’s Midwifery report includes policy recommendations to improve sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn and adolescent health service delivery and midwifery leadership and governance.

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