Peace or war, midwives keep delivering

This year the vital role of midwives during the ongoing climate crisis is in the spotlight. 

Every two minutes, a woman or girl dies due to pregnancy-related complications, a figure that climate change threatens to exacerbate said UNFPA, underscoring the crucial role that midwives play in mitigating these risks. 

“When crisis strikes, midwives are often first on the scene, especially in remote communities. They know that babies arrive no matter a childbearing woman’s circumstances – whether she’s resting at home or fleeing it due to conflict or disaster,” UNFPA chief Dr. Natalia Kanem said in a statement marking the Day. 

Alongside their immediate task of attending births, midwives deliver up to 90 percent of other sexual and reproductive health services.

When war strikes

The importance of midwives as critical healthcare providers has soared during a time when conflict seems to be proliferating. Their role goes far beyond assisting women in labour, extending to vital psychological support for women and children in distress.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) marked the day with a video, showcasing Samar Nazmi Muwafi, the staff midwife and head nurse at the Al-Emarati hospital in Gaza. 

Despite the enormous workload – up to 500 female patients go through the hospital’s emergency room every day – she stays strong by focusing on patient care. 

“I learned to smile. I always draw my smile to make the patients feel comfortable,” says Samar Nazmi Muwafi.

Acute deficit

There is a severe shortage of around a million midwives globally. Challenging working conditions, gender discrimination contributing to low wages and reports of harassment, have deterred many from entering the profession. 

According to UNFPA data from 2023, 287,000 women continue to lose their lives giving birth each year. Around 2.4 million newborns die and an additional 2.2 million are stillborn. 

Universal access to midwives offers the best and most cost-efficient solution to end preventable maternal deaths, UNFPA says. By closing the deficit in the number of midwives, two thirds of maternal and newborn deaths could be prevented, saving over 4.3 million lives a year by 2035.

UNFPA has already helped countries educate and train over 350,000 midwives in line with international standards to help improve the quality of care they provide, and the work continues. 

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