White Ribbon Alliance

WRA session 500px


June 11, 2014
Brigid McConville and Lydia Wisner

Hundreds of White Ribbon Alliance members from around the world were in Prague last week for the 30th ICM Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives.

Lennie Kamwendo of WRA in Malawi inspired midwives to lead the change in their own countries in two very lively, packed out advocacy workshops, while Mary Chuwa from WRA Tanzania outlined a successful campaign which more than doubled the numbers signing up to midwifery training.

White Ribbon Alliance was called on for a response at the plenary launch of the State of the World’s Midwifery (SoWMy) 2014: A Woman’s Right to Health report - the fourth since the first call to action in 2011. Brigid McConville spoke about the accountability, with WRA members working to close the gap between high level promises and the stark reality of health provision for women.

The SOWMy report reveals dangerous gaps in the midwifery workforce in 73 African, Asian and Latin American countries. Though maternal death rates in these 73 countries have steadily declined with annual reductions of 3% since 1990, they still have 96% of the world’s maternal deaths, 91% of stillbirths, and 93% of newborn deaths – yet only 42% of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors. The clear message is that more needs to be done to address the severe shortage of midwives.

At the ICM congress WRA representatives reported from the frontlines of the fight to increase numbers of quality, trained midwives. Mary Chuwa described how WRA activities in Tanzania prove that midwives themselves can be the strongest advocates for change, and showed how targeting youth in secondary schools can both improve the reputation of midwives, and dramatically increase the new generations’ interest in pursuing midwifery as a career. The crowd-pleaser of the session was the “Mythbusting Midwives” video, prepared by Brigid McConville, which made use of photographs contributed by real life midwives across the globe to challenge the negative stereotypes of who and what a midwife is. By addressing negative perceptions, WRA believes that youths can be inspired to consider midwifery as a career.

Lennie Kamwendo presented WRA Malawi’s national advocacy campaign: Happy Midwives for Happy and Healthier Mothers, which persuades decision-makers to take specific actions to improve the status and working conditions of midwives and supports the improved status and recognition of professional midwives. Mande Limbu, WRA’s Maternal Health Technical Advisor, also presented on rights-based approaches to Respectful Maternity Care, and Katy Woods wielded a camera throughout, ensuring that the choicest developments were shared with the social media stratosphere through blogs and tweets.

The SoWMy report recommends additional solutions to the barriers outlined in four key areas: availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of midwifery services, and describes the positive results that have been seen – for example, 45% of the 73 countries have implemented measures to retain midwives in remote areas and 28% are increasing the recruitment and deployment of midwives, while 20% have implemented new codes of practice and 71% have improved information collection enabling countries to address shortages and education standards.

Despite some progress, a lack of access to services and poverty have increased in some countries. Moreover, the ongoing lack of trained midwives means that hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths take place annually. Critical gaps in resources persist and urgent action is desperately needed. The report presents recommendations to close these gaps and allow mothers across the world the basic human right of access to quality health care. The full SoWMy 2014 report is available to download here.