Invest in midwifery education, recruitment, regulation and protection, WHO urges nations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on countries, governments, academic institutions, civil society and partners to invest in midwifery education, recruitment, regulation and protection as a way of boosting the number of midwives in Africa to help contribute to better health, gender equality, and inclusive economic growth.

This is contained in a message delivered in Abuja by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti to mark 2022 International Day of the Midwife.

According to her, Midwives have been an integral part of African medicine for centuries and are in front-line caregivers and backbone of maternal and child health care on the continent.
In her words,they support women through pregnancy and childbirth, providing antenatal, intrapartum and post-natal care, and family planning services, as well as breast and cervical cancer screenings. In emergencies, they can also perform basic emergency obstetric care.

“Midwives are central to the prevention of maternal and newborn deaths, and stillbirths. With adequate investment in midwifery, 4.3 million lives could be saved annually by 2035. This has particular relevance for the WHO African Region, which records about 196 000 maternal deaths each year, along with the deaths of one million babies younger than one month.

She added that despite their role in saving lives, global shortage of midwives stands at 900 000, and is particularly acute in Africa as revealed in 2021 by State of the World’s Midwifery report supported by the WHO, the ICM and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“Unfortunately, if current trends persist, only 300 000 midwifery jobs are likely to be created in low-income countries, with the shortage of midwives set to increase to 1 million by 2030. This has serious implications for the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live deaths before 2030.

“The contributions that midwives have to make towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage cannot be overestimated. Midwives have been strengthening Primary Health Care for decades, acting as a critical link between women and the health system, and making pregnancy and childbirth safer and more secure.

Speaking further, she added, if fully integrated into the health care system, and with the necessary enabling support, midwives have the capacity to provide a wide range of clinical interventions, contributing to broader health goals. These include advancing Primary Health Care, addressing sexual and reproductive rights, promoting self-care interventions, and empowering women.

“The African Region’s tragic record of maternal and infant deaths demands urgent interventions to expand the coverage of emergency obstetric and newborn services, along with a revision of the scope of practice to allow more task-sharing and task-shifting to mitigate the shortage of midwives.

She however pledged WHO African Region determination in working closely with Member States to improve the quality of maternal and reproductive care. “Already we are supporting the development and implementation of national strategies to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal and newborn illness and death, and to improve every mother’s experience of care, by 2030.

Moeti however advocates for the adoption of policies to combat sexual harassment and promote a safe and respectful work environment, for midwives and other health workers.

It could be recall that International Day of the Midwife is celebrated annually on 5 May to help provide opportunity to honour the work of midwives, and promote awareness of the crucial care that midwives provide to mothers and their newborns.
This year marks the establishment, 100 years ago, of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). There are currently 143 Midwives’ Associations representing 124 countries worldwide, including the Confederation of African Midwives Associations (CONAMA), which was inaugurated in 2013.


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