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International Day of the Midwife: What are the global leaders saying?

May 7, 2015
This post originally appeared in the American College of Nurse Midwives' Quickening, Volume 46, Number 2 (Spring 2015).

By Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Maternal Health Task Force

MidwifeMarchEventToday, May 5, is the International Day of the Midwife. This is an opportunity for the global community to come together to recognize the incredible impact midwives have on maternal and newborn health and decreasing mortality. Want to know more about what global leaders are doing to strengthen midwifery?

On Monday, March 23rd, global leaders in midwifery and maternal, newborn and child health gathered in Washington, DC at the Wilson Center for Call the Midwife: A Conversation About the Rising Global Midwifery Movement. This symposium hosted four panels to discuss current data, country investments, important global initiatives and public private partnerships and innovation in midwifery. Each of the panels was presented in the context of exciting new strides in maternal health with the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, an updated strategy for the United Nations’ Every Woman, Every Child initiative and the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility that supports it.

While each speaker’s background and focus varied, the themes of the symposium were consistent:

Improve management and leaderships skills of midwives
Improve pre-service and in-service education
Innovate to keep midwives in rural areas
Fill the need for well-trained midwifery faculty
Integrate maternal and newborn healthcare
Provide respectful maternity care (RMC)
Build capacity

To kick-off the symposium, His Excellency Björn Lyrvall, Swedish Ambassador to the United States told the story of midwifery in Sweden: in 1751, it was reported to parliament that 400 of 651 maternal deaths could be averted with midwifery. Parliament took this seriously and by training midwives with safe delivery techniques decreased Sweden’s maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 900 deaths per 100,000 live births (among the highest in Europe at the time) to 230. Sweden’s passion and investment in midwifery can act as an example to countries that are now facing a similar burden of maternal mortality.

The data on midwifery

The first panel on data summarized the State of the World’s Midwifery 2014 (SoWMy 2014), the Lancet Series on Midwifery and the International Confederation of Midwives’ (ICM) vision and programs. In his presentation on SoWMy 2014, Luc de Bernis, Technical Adviser at UNFPA, focused on projections of workforce availability and met need, or the ratio of workforce time available to time needed. Projections identify countries with a low-met need, medium-met need and high-met need in 2030. Interestingly, two countries that are doing well now, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, will not be able to meet their health workforce needs by 2030 if investment does not accelerate now to keep up with an increasing need for services.

In her review of the Lancet Series on Midwifery, Holly Kennedy, Varney Professor of Midwifery at Yale University, announced two papers that will be added to the series: one on disrespect and abuse and RMC and another that summarizes the top 10 research priorities from the series to improve maternal and newborn health using the QMNC framework.

Frances Day-Stirk, President of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), then spoke on her organization’s vision and programs, including “A Promising Future,” a campaign to promote midwifery as the norm and not a novelty. The focus of ICM is to have midwives who are appropriate (well-educated and regulated), accessible (especially in poor geographic areas) and cost-effective. Day-Stirk also outlined the critical pillars of midwifery—education, regulation and association—which stand on a foundation of ICM core competencies. The focus and pillars of ICM were echoed throughout the remainder of the symposium.

At the end of this panel, countries were encouraged to look at long-term plans for strengthening and scaling-up professional midwifery, instead of quick fixes with training auxiliary midwives.

Country investments and lessons learned

Representatives from Cameroon, Afghanistan, Liberia and Ethiopia presented data on current initiatives in their countries to support and scale up midwifery. Ethiopia and Cameroon have both seen improvements in midwifery and maternal health indicators through investing in midwifery education and establishing accreditation of schools and training sites. Although they have seen success in their efforts, challenges still remain with a shortage of midwifery faculty and clinical training sites.

In Afghanistan, the Community Midwifery Education (CME) program, supported by USAID, Jhpiego, WHO and UNFPA, provides quality, sustainable midwifery education. The 2-year program supports women with at least a 10th grade education, chosen by their communities to participate. After training is complete, women return to their communities where child care and transportation is provided to enable them to use their skills and also to incentivize them to stay in their community. Other initiatives include leadership training, accreditation and mobile programs.

Marion Subah, a senior nurse midwife and Jhpiego’s country representative in Liberia, reported that since Ebola, antenatal care (ANC) coverage, skilled birth attendance and institutional delivery have all had an absolute decrease of about 10%, reversing recent advances in maternal health in Liberia. She recounted the difficulties of delivering maternal health care in the context of Ebola: six midwives have died from Ebola and women who need post abortion care are especially at risk because of the fears associated with contracting Ebola through bodily fluids. Moving forward, the ministry of health (MOH) has created a 10-year plan that focuses on increasing the number and quality of midwives, faculty development and establishing well-working computer and science labs and clinical sites.

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