Leaders in women's health call for more investment in midwives to prevent 4.3 million deaths each year
This International Day of the Midwife, leaders in women's health pay tribute to the remarkable midwives who work hard to ensure the health of girls and women.
- 8 May 2023
- 5 min read
- by World Economic Forum
No woman should die while giving birth. Midwives are critical in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and in improving girls' and women's reproductive and maternal health worldwide. Fully investing in midwives by 2035 would save 4.3 million precious lives per year and lift the terrible toll from preventable maternal deaths, stillbirths and infant deaths in countries that are carrying the biggest burden.
Investing in midwives would avert roughly two-thirds (67%) of maternal deaths, 64% of newborn deaths and 65% of stillbirths. We call for renewed commitments among policy-makers and donors to invest in midwives for the benefit of individuals, families, communities, and whole societies.
Women are half the world's population but account for two-thirds of the global health and social care workforce. The financial value of their contribution is estimated to be over $3 trillion annually – or 5% of GDP, providing essential health services for around 5 billion people every year. However, while 93% of midwives and 89% of nurses are women, female health workers are a severely under-invested core part of the global health sector.
On 5 May, the annual International Day of the Midwife, we pay tribute to their bravery, compassion and tenacity in delivering life-saving care and support, even during unimaginable hardships and times of great adversity – through conflict, disasters and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.
We are a multistakeholder coalition, championed by Ferring and Organon, that works under the World Economic Forum's Protecting Women's Health Initiative to develop and introduce evidence-based investment interventions that enable stakeholders – from ministries of health to private sector organizations to NGOs – to make long-lasting impact in the area of women's health.
We have invited members of the coalition to pay tribute to midwives and share their views on why now is the time to recognize their value, and showcase why investing in them is the smart thing to do.
"Most deaths could be prevented if the women were assisted by a midwife"
Anna Frellsen, CEO, Maternity Foundation
Every other minute, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Most deaths occur in low-resource and fragile settings, and the majority could be prevented if the women were assisted by a skilled midwife.
Investments in midwifery will not only save lives but it is an all-round best buy. If we invest in maternal health, it has a range of positive spillover effects and brings benefits to the women's families, local societies, and the economy.
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Additionally, investments in midwifery can be very cost-effective. At Maternity Foundation, we work to ensure safer births by building skills and knowledge among midwives through scalable digital health solutions. So far, we have reached 300,000 healthcare workers, but the need is much greater as progress on reducing the global maternal mortality rates has stagnated. It's time to advance the maternal health agenda – not only to the benefit of women but to all of us.
"Advance the right of people to safely access reproductive health services"
Samukeliso Dube, Executive Director, FamilyPlanning 2030
As we work to advance the right of people everywhere to safely access reproductive health services, we must invest first in the individuals doing the work. Midwives play a critical role in every aspect of maternal and newborn health, from family planning counselling and care to pre- and postpartum care, and continuous primary care for women and their communities.
Investing in midwives is a cost-effective way to prevent maternal and infant deaths, helping us meet our development goals around women's health and rights. And yet, despite their crucial role in communities, midwives continue to be amongst the lowest-paid health personnel in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
It is imperative to generate greater investment in midwives, improve their working conditions and training opportunities, to expand their scope of practice in order to improve healthcare in their communities and beyond.
"An equitable world starts with healthy mothers delivering healthy babies"
Sanjana Bhardwaj, Deputy Director, Program Advocacy and Communications, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Our vision of a more resilient and equitable world starts with healthy mothers delivering healthy babies. As a physician, I've seen first-hand the impact on lives when dedicated female healthcare workers and midwives provide quality care to the most vulnerable, across the world. Midwives save the lives of 4.3 million women and babies every year and can meet about 90% of the need for essential sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, and adolescent health and nutrition interventions.
Our collaborative work through many partners such as the International Confederation of Midwives, UNFPA and What Women Want network, shows the ripple effect on lives and economies when timely, quality care is provided by midwives, supported by resources, training and professional growth. We can make progress on maternal and newborn health by investing in midwives and the innovative tools they need to save lives.
"A skilled health professional at every birth is a human right"
Jackie Ramasodi, Global Access & Communications Lead, Project Family: Safe Birth
As the world strives to end preventable maternal mortality by 2030, women in sub-Saharan Africa account for 70% of the world's maternal deaths. Most of these deaths are preventable. This is one of the greatest injustices of our time, and as a mother and also having worked as a midwife in sub-Saharan Africa, implementing Ferring's Project Safe Birth commitment in the region, this is what gets me up every morning.
On International Day of the Midwife, let's thank the nurses and midwives who every day save lives, even in the most difficult of circumstances. And remember that a skilled health professional at every birth is a human right that can make the difference between life and death for the woman as well as the newborn.
Christina Östberg Lloyd, Senior Vice-President, Reproductive Medicine Maternal Health, Ferring Pharmaceuticals
Christian Sand Horup, Project Fellow, World Economic Forum
This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum on 5 May 2023.