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Discussing the state of world midwivery over breakfast

This week I am part of a small delegation of Save the Children staff attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The WHA is attended by delegations from more than 190 countries and meets each year to determine the policies of the World Health Organisation.

I was up early this morning to attend a breakfast meeting on a new report that will provide much needed evidence for strengthening midwifery services around the world.

The meeting was rather poignant for me as my own sister attended her 20-week check-up in the UK today. As I listened to presentations from health ministers and UN officials I was struck by the fact that if my sister had been born in another part of the world she may not have had access to a health worker to support her throughout her pregnancy.

Thinking of my sister

She might not have had the chance to attend check-ups like the one she went to today, and when the time comes for her to give birth, it is unimaginable to think that there might be no one available to help her to deliver her baby.

Thankfully, my sister is not going to be in this position. But as our own recent report ‘Missing Midwives’ showed, 48 million women give birth without a skilled birth attendant.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) , supported by partners including Save the Children, commissioned The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011: Delivering Health, Saving Lives to gather the latest information from the 58 countries with the greatest burden of maternal, foetal and newborn mortality.

First of its kind

The full report will not be launched properly until June but this morning we got a taster of what it will include. The report will be the first of its kind and will include statistical tables and applicable global standards, collating relevant midwifery information into one reference document.

It will show that we not only need more midwives but we need more of them attending deliveries in the places where vulnerable people live – often rural, remote areas with poor health facilities.

The report will also argue that too often the focus is on the number of health workers trained, but we also need to focus on the competencies of health workers and the quality of care provided.

Support networks

The research also highlights the fact midwives need support to do their work effectively. Often they work alone and don’t have the basic equipment and facilities they need to do their job.

Midwives also need to be supported by strong, functioning health systems that include good regulation and better information systems so we know where different types of health workers are and where they are most needed.

No time to wait

Each country will need to take a different approach but the main take home message was that we need to invest in midwives!

Edna Ismail from the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland – where there is a 1 in 13 chance of a woman dying in childbirth – summed up the morning when she said that midwifery is a necessity and not a luxury.

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