By Sharon Atieno

Though midwives play a critical role in maternal and reproductive health, there remains a significant shortage in the world, more so, in Africa. This is due to low investment in the health sector and midwives specifically.

It is in this regard that Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa during the celebration of the International Day of the Midwife called on African governments to invest in this workforce.

According to Dr. Moeti, if African countries are to be capacitated to increase coverage and quality of maternal services, while still responding effectively to health emergencies such as COVID-19, governments and partners need to substantially increase investment in the education, recruitment, deployment, retention and protection of midwives.

She noted that 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, thus contributing to broader health goals including advancing Primary Health Care, addressing sexual and reproductive rights, promoting self-care interventions, and empowering women.

Indeed, the 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report shows that adequate investment in midwifery, could save 4.3 million lives annually by 2035.

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, could benefit from this intervention, she said.

“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 one million by 2030 -this has serious implications for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live deaths before 2030,” Dr. Moeti noted, adding that midwives should be given the attention they truly deserve.

Elsewhere, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) called on health systems globally to do more to support midwives and guarantee respectful, decent working conditions, noting that amid an acute shortage of midwives, many are overworked and underpaid.

Besides highlighting the need to regulate the profession, Dr. Kanem said: Strong associations of midwives provide channels for midwives to advocate for dignified working conditions and policies within health systems to realize the full potential of midwifery.”

The International Day of the Midwife is marked annually every 5th May, this year’s theme was “100 years of Progress”, in line with the commemoration of 100 years since the formation of  the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM)  which began as International Midwives Union in Belgium.