The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. All 191 UN member states have committed to achieve these goals by the year 2015 and to combat issues such as poverty, hunger and disease. MDG 4 and 5 aim to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health which is a huge challenge in many developing countries. Midwives can prevent about two thirds of deaths among women and newborns and their role extends from family planning through the postpartum period. It is important to shed light on the role of these unsung heroes.
The UNFPA and partners produced the 2014 edition of The State of the World’s Midwifery report to highlight the role of these healthcare professionals. This report includes information on 73 countries which carry more than 92 percent of maternal and newborn death burden globally and there are some startling findings. Within these countries, that account for the vast majority of maternal and newborn death, there exists less than half of the world’s medical, midwifery and nursing personnel at 42 percent. A further dichotomy exits within these countries as workforce shortages are greatest in areas with highest mortality rates. Only 4 of the included countries have a midwifery workforce that meets the universal need for the 46 essential interventions for sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive, disaggregated data makes it difficult to determine the availability and quality of the midwifery workforce, and data accuracy and completeness is key in order to plan effectively. There is a minimum of 10 pieces of information that countries should collect which include factors such as headcount, length of education and age distribution. Moreover, it was shown that educated midwives who are regulated to international standards can provide 87 percent of the essential care required. It is also critical to improve facilities and make sure they have the capacity to provide appropriate services.
The returns on investment on midwives can be termed as a “best buy” as investment in education and deployment could yield 16 fold returns in terms of saved costs from complications and more importantly, investment in midwives and other healthcare professionals can contribute to ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths.