Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

International Day of the Midwife: Statement by WHO Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health

5 May 2011

Over 350 000 women and 3.6 million newborns are dying needlessly each year. Despite this, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, for reducing child mortality, and MDG 5, for improving maternal health, remain the least advanced of the MDGs.

On 5 May, the International Day of the Midwife, the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the significant impact of midwives on the health of women and newborns. Midwives are essential to the delivery of quality services before, during, and after childbirth for women and newborns. A key approach of the midwifery profession is to create the conditions for women and their newborn to go through a safe, humanized and respectful childbirth experience.

Despite this vital role in improving maternal and newborn health, recent analyses indicate that midwives and midwifery services are unequally distributed both between and within countries. Direct investment in midwifery education, regulation and association will create the necessary conditions for the midwifery profession to achieve its full potential, thereby accelerating progress towards meeting MDGs 4 and 5.

Countries working to achieve these MDGs must recognize and strengthen the skills of midwives and other health personnel with midwifery skills that are already saving lives of women and newborns. Countries with critical shortages of skilled health workers need to accelerate the development of competent midwives and ensure that they will be fully supported by the health-care system. In addition, governments need to ensure that policies allow midwives and those with midwifery skills to implement the full scope of midwifery practice. These policy advances, combined with improved working conditions for midwives, and increasing access to services for all women and newborns, will have a significant impact on efforts to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 and the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

As presented in the upcoming The State of the World’s Midwifery report, the role of midwives is acknowledged as being crucial to addressing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, to promoting women’s and children’s health. Midwives should be key partners in making health services more responsive to the needs of women and communities.

The report, being produced by a coalition of partners including WHO, will address some of the critical issues surrounding the midwifery profession. It will examine issues related to the number and distribution of health professionals involved in the delivery of midwifery services, explore emerging issues in the midwifery profession, analyse global issues affecting health personnel with midwifery skills, and call for accelerating investments to expand and improve midwifery services. The publication of the report is indicative of the collaboration and engagement of key international partners and the renewed efforts to improve maternal and child health to achieve MDGs 4 and 5.

On this day, as WHO honours midwives worldwide for their significant contributions to maternal and child health, we need to look forward at what needs to be done to allow the midwifery profession to reach its full potential and continue to support the work of midwives in reducing maternal and newborn mortality.

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