Drastic increase in midwifery workforce needed, reads new report

Geneva, 22 June 2011 | Up to 3.6 million deaths could be avoided each year in 58 developing countries if midwifery services are upgraded by 2015, according to a major new report launched this week at the Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) in Durban, South Africa. The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 unveils new data confirming there is a significant gap between the number of midwives practicing and those needed to save lives.

“Ensuring that every woman and her newborn have access to quality midwifery services demands that we take bold steps to build on what we have achieved so far across communities, countries, regions and the world,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his foreword to the report.

Each year, 358,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth, some two million newborns die within the first 24 hours of life and there are 2.6 million stillbirths, all because of inadequate or insufficient health care.

The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 reveals that, unless an additional 112,000 midwives are trained, deployed and retained in supportive environments, 38 of 58 countries surveyed might not meet their target to achieve 95 per cent coverage of births by skilled attendants by 2015, as required by Millennium Development Goal 5, on maternal health. The report is the result of a collective effort of some 30 partners, including the Global Health Workforce Alliance (the Alliance).

The Alliance focus on recruitment, retention and motivation of midwives:

The Alliance has contributed with substantive inputs to the production of the report. The background paper Midwifery Workforce Management and Innovation, prepared by the Alliance, focuses on three overarching aspects essential to midwifery workforce management: managing entry to the workforce, managing stay in the workforce, and managing exit from the workforce. It shows that nations are on the right track when they put at center stage innovative approaches for the recruitment, retention, and motivation of midwives in their response to addressing women and children's health. Moreover, the Alliance has been a proactive partner working towards the adoption last autumn of the United Nations Secretary-General's Global Strategy on Women and Children's Health.

"The close correlation between access to skilled, motivated and supported health workers, and maternal and child health is well established. The report shows that some countries will need more than a 10-fold increase in the number of midwives, with most needing to either double, triple or quadruple their midwifery workforce to improve quality and coverage", said Mubashar Sheikh, Executive Director of the Alliance. "Furthermore, training and education needs to be scaled-up urgently in many countries to ensure midwives acquire the skills they need to perform quality care."

Increasing women’s access to quality midwifery has become a focus of global efforts to realize the right of every woman to the best possible health care during pregnancy and childbirth. The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 is the first ever global report on midwifery and a milestone in the recognition of midwives as key players within well functioning health-care systems.