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Adequate midwifery workforce could save 4.3m lives yearly

An estimated 4.3 million lives of mothers and newborns could be saved yearly if the world could adequately resource for midwifery workforce to aid childbirth, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report assessing the state of the world’s midwifery has stated.

Shortage of professional expertise in midwifery has seen the incidence of maternal and child mortality spiral as prioritisation remains among the list of healthcare needs.

800 in every 100, 000 mothers trying to give birth are estimated to have died in 2015, making approximately 58, 000 deaths.

Nigeria had less than 2 nurses and midwives per 1, 000 people as of 2018, according to the World Bank.

About 900, 000 midwives, marking a third of the required global midwifery workforce are needed across the globe to avert 67 percent of maternal deaths, 64 percent of newborn deaths, and 65 percent of stillbirths by 2035, according to the report.

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Analysed data shows that Africa hosts 204, 500 professional midwives, the highest across WHO regions compared to 142, 300 in Western Pacific, 133, 500 in Europe, 68,200 in Southeast Asia, 61, 600 in Eastern Mediterranean and 40, 900 in Americas.

Data for 190 countries indicate a global nursing workforce of 27.1 million, with 80 percent working in the Americas, European and Western Pacific regions.

The density is 13 times higher in high-income countries than in low-income countries at 112.1 and 8.4 respectively per 10,000 population.

In terms of the availability of general practitioners, gynaecologists and paediatricians, 5.2 million are available globally, that is 6.9 per 10,000 population.

A majority of 70 percent work in the Western Pacific, Americas and Europe regions, with a density almost five times higher in high-income countries than in low-income countries where 10.5 and 2.3 professionals are available per 10,000 population.

The global health body lamented that despite raising alarm over the deadly toll of such deficit in its last report released in 2014, the pace of progress has been so slow that only a slight improvement would have been marked by 2030.

It also noted that gender inequality plays a significant role in the under-resourcing of midwifery as sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls still go largely unrecognized.

“Women account for 93 per cent of midwives and 89 percent 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,” WHO said in a statement released on Wednesday.

More investment is required in the aspects of education and training, midwife-led service delivery, and midwifery leadership for midwives to achieve their life-saving and life-changing potential, WHO advised noting that governments must prioritise funding and support for midwifery and take concrete steps to include midwives in determining health policies.

“We must learn the lessons the pandemic is teaching us, by implementing policies and making investments that deliver better support and protection for midwives and other health workers,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general said.

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