World currently facing shortage of 900 000 midwives due to COVID-19
The acute shortage of midwives is exacting a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths.WHO | Updated: 05-05-2021 13:23 IST | Created: 05-05-2021 13:23 IST
The world is currently facing a shortage of 900 000 midwives, which represents a third of the required global midwifery workforce. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated these problems, with the health needs of women and newborns being overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and midwives being deployed to other health services.
These are some of the key takeaways from the 2021 State of World's Midwifery report by UNFPA (the UN sexual and reproductive health agency), WHO (World Health Organization), International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and partners, which evaluates the midwifery workforce and related health resources in 194 countries.
The acute shortage of midwives is exacting a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths. An analysis conducted for this report, published in the Lancet last December, showed that fully resourcing midwife-delivered care by 2035 could avert 67 per cent of maternal deaths, 64 per cent of newborn deaths and 65 per cent of stillbirths. It could save an estimated 4.3 million lives per year.
Despite alarms raised in the last State of the World's Midwifery report in 2014, which also provided a roadmap on how to remedy this deficit, progress over the past eight years has been too slow. The analysis in this year's report shows that, at current rates of progress, the situation will have improved only slightly by 2030.
Gender inequality is an unacknowledged driver in this massive shortage. The continued under-resourcing of the midwifery workforce is a symptom of health systems not prioritizing the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls, and not recognizing the role of midwives – most of whom are women – to meet these needs. Women account for 93 per cent of midwives and 89 per cent of nurses.
Midwives do not just attend births. They also provide antenatal and postnatal care and a range of sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, detecting and treating sexually transmitted infections, and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents, all while ensuring respectful care and upholding women's rights. As the numbers of midwives increase, and they are able to provide care in an enabling environment, women's and newborns' health improves as a whole, benefitting all of society.
For midwives to achieve their life-saving and life-changing potential, greater investment is needed in their education and training, midwife-led service delivery, and midwifery leadership. Governments must prioritise funding and support for midwifery and take concrete steps to include midwives in determining health policies.