This year, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), which began as the International Midwives Union in Belgium, turns a century old, so what better theme for International Day of the Midwife than “100 Years of Progress.”
Since 2008, when the Global Midwifery Programme was established with ICM – which represents more than 1 million midwives worldwide – UNFPA has supported the work of midwives in more than 120 countries. We’ve seen them perform their duties in the face of climate change, from helping women safely give birth as electricity flickered and floodwaters rose in a Bangladesh hospital to under a bridge post-hurricane in Honduras to among the ruins in earthquake-shattered Haiti. Midwives have put their lives at risk helping expectant mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic and ebola outbreaks, turned their homes in Yemen – where only 50 per cent of health facilities are operational – into makeshift maternity wards, provided care to refugees and migrants and worked under threat of militant groups.
While 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. They 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.
The UNFPA, the ICM and the World Health Organization’s 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report revealed that if governments invested in midwives, 4.3 million lives could be saved every year by 2035, a number that includes maternal deaths, neonatal deaths and stillbirths.
This group of mostly women health care professionals could meet 90 per cent of reproductive health needs and prevent 65 per cent of maternal and newborn deaths. Still, the world is facing a global shortage of 900,000 midwives.
Their contributions toward achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of reducing maternal mortality and ensuring both universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and universal health coverage cannot be underestimated. Midwives have been strengthening primary health-care systems for decades and will play a vital role in the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents in the decades to come.