Midwife shortage in developing countries contributing to deaths of mothers, infants, Save the Children report says

The deaths of more than one million mothers and newborns could be prevented if the shortage of 350,000 trained midwives in developing countries could be met, according to a Save the Children report (.pdf) released on Friday, Reuters reports.

"The World Health Organization recommends one midwife or skilled birth attendant for every 175 pregnant women but this standard is far from being achieved," according to the report. For instance, "[i]n Rwanda, where 400,000 babies are born in a year, there are 46 public midwives (or one midwife for every 8,600 births). Uganda has 15,000 trained midwives with an estimated 1.5 million women having babies each year," according to the report. The report describes the conditions likely contributing to the midwife shortages in developing countries and the health risks mothers and infants face when delivery takes place without assistance from a trained health professional (April 2011).

According to the report, some 48 million - or one in three - women give birth without the presence of a trained midwife and two million give birth alone, with least developed countries having the highest percentages of unattended births, AlertNet reports (Nguyen, 4/1). "As a result, 1,000 women and 2,000 babies die every day from birth complications which could be easily prevented, the agency said," the U.K. Press Association writes (4/1).

"[M]idwives trained in just eight procedures, including keeping newborns warm and fed, could immediately cut newborn deaths by more than a third in the 68 countries with the worst neonatal mortality rates, the report said," Reuters continues. The article describes recent efforts to increase the number of births attended by trained professionals in developing countries. For instance, in Afghanistan, known to have some of the highest rates of child and maternal death, "the number of rural births attended by trained professionals rose from 6 percent to 19 percent between 2003 and 2006, Save the Children said," Reuters writes (4/1).

"Save the Children called on donor countries especially in the European Union, G8 and G20 to put health workers at the centre of their development agenda," AlertNet continues. The organization "also urged heads of state meeting at a U.N. summit in September to make concrete commitments to tackle a global shortage of 3.5 million health workers, while asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be more flexible about allowing more public sector spending in the countries it lends to," the news service writes (4/1).

The report warns that without global action and increased funds, "the Millennium Development Goals to cut child and maternal mortality will not be met and mothers and babies will continue to die in shocking numbers," the Independent reports (4/1).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


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