Supporting midwives for a better tomorrow

Martha Murdock is Vice President for Regional Programs at Family Care International.

Midwives save lives. It’s as simple as that. But the obstacles and barriers midwives face are anything but simple.

We all know that midwives have crucial clinical skills that help them care for women and their newborns everyday all over the world. If these lifesaving services were available and accessible to all the women and babies who need them, midwives could help avert two-thirds of the nearly 300,000 maternal deaths and half of the 3 million newborn deaths that occur every year. Midwives play an absolutely critical role in making progress on Millennium Development Goals 4 (reducing child mortality) and 5 (improving maternal health and achieving universal access to reproductive health). And without a well-supported, trained, and supplied midwifery cadre, we won’t be able to meet the maternal and child health targets that will be part of the post-2015 agenda. We’re delighted to join our colleagues at the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) in celebrating the International Day of the Midwife today, 5 May.

A midwife in the labor ward listens to the fetal heartbeat using a pinard horn. (Photo by Paolo Patruno)
A midwife in the labor ward listens to the fetal heartbeat using a pinard horn. (Photo by Paolo Patruno)

Here at Family Care International (FCI), we know that midwives can save lives in another important way: as advocates for their profession and the women and families that they serve. Every day, they come face-to-face with the serious gaps in health care systems and strive to provide the best quality care they can to fill those gaps. Their first-hand experiences with health system challenges as well as the needs of women and their families make midwives essential advocates though they don’t always have the capacity to turn their knowledge into action.

In 2014, with ICM, we created an advocacy toolkit to help midwives become the champions we knew they could be. The toolkit accompanies the State of the World’s Midwifery report and distills the central findings and recommendations from the report into an easily accessible tool for midwives to use in their own advocacy. With support from Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), we’ve been working with partners in countries with high burdens of maternal and newborn mortality, to enhance the skills, knowledge, and capacity of midwives to effect change within their countries and communities.

In Burkina Faso, for example, FCI partnered with the national midwifery association, the Ministry of Health, and UNFPA, to sponsor a three-day workshop convening forty people from all over the country and from different parts of the health sector, including midwives. During the three days, this intersectoral group discussed the challenges that midwives and the health system face in bringing quality care to women and families, as well as possible solutions. With this work, we’ve seen a greater appreciation within the Ministry of Health of the integral role that midwives play as well as increasing public recognition of the importance of midwives at the community level and within the health sector.

Through this workshop, the organizations and people present built strong connections with one another and began to strategize about ways they can work together for positive change in Burkina Faso. Already the three national midwifery groups present have formed local action plans to tackle the policy, regulatory, and educational barriers to providing quality care to all the women who need it.

Over the next year we will be carrying out three more workshops during ICM’s maternal health conferences in Suriname and Japan and the FIGO World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics in Canada. We know that this work is just beginning and we’re excited to see the powerful voices and coalitions that will emerge from midwifery communities all over the world.

To learn more about our tools for midwives or how you can support the work of midwives for a better tomorrow, visit the International Day of the Midwife web page or download the toolkit, Making the Case for Midwifery.

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