Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

International Day of the Midwife May 5th, 2014

WHO joins partners in celebrating midwives and their critical role for mothers and newborn babies

WHO joins partners in celebrating the International Day of the Midwife 2014, observed every year on May 5th. The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) theme this year is “Midwives: changing the world one family at a time” accompanied by the overarching theme “The world needs midwives now more than ever”. WHO takes this opportunity of this day to highlight the critical role that midwives have in ensuring the care and survival of newborn babies.

A nurse teaching a new mother how to breastfeed, Lebanon
WHO/Chris Black

Every day, midwives around the world are to be thanked for their work in providing care to women and their newborns, in particular at the critical time around childbirth.

Much progress has been made in recent years in increasing access to skilled care at birth and the proportion of women who give birth in facilities. Nevertheless, every year, 2.9 million newborns die in the first month of life and another 2.6 million babies are stillborn with many of these deaths occurring around the time of birth. In addition, an estimated 287 000 women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. The highest burden of maternal and newborn death is in low-income countries, especially in rural areas.

Every Newborn: an action plan to end preventable deaths

This year, Ministers of Health from countries around the world will discuss the “Every Newborn: an action plan to end preventable deaths” (ENAP) at the World Health Assembly in May in Geneva. With the support of WHO and UNICEF, the ENAP has been developed though a consultative process involving governments and concerned partners. Many midwives from all regions have provided excellent inputs to the document.

The ENAP highlights the critical importance of quality of care around childbirth and the immediate postnatal period for saving the lives of women and newborns, and preventing stillbirths – a triple return on investment. It recognizes that care for women and newborns - from before conception through the postnatal period - is best provided by a dedicated health professional qualified in midwifery, and that this care should be based on respect for the normal biological process of childbirth. Professional midwives are uniquely placed to provide such care, working in teams with communities and specialists in order to create access and ensure timely recognition and management of complications when they occur.

”One of the ENAP's key objectives will be to encourage governments to allocate adequate resources for maternal and newborn health services within national health sector plans. This should include funds for the training and retention of midwives. We will continue to support countries to develop and strengthen their midwifery services as a critical intervention to save the lives of women and newborns” says Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHOs Department for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.

WHO encourages countries to create universal access to a well-educated, regulated midwifery workforce in a health system with adequate equipment and supplies, as the means to prevent up to two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths. The Organization recognizes the pivotal role that midwives play in the provision of quality maternal and newborn health services. However, to ensure high levels of coverage and quality care, an estimated 350 000 more midwives are still needed globally.