TIME

Midwives Save Lives, But We Need More of Them, UN Says

This year's State of the World’s Midwifery report shows progress and challenges for midwives in developing countries

Developing countries have a shortage of trained midwives that could potentially save millions of women and children, a new State of the World’s Midwifery report says.

According to the UNFPA report, while developing countries have made progress in improving maternal and newborn health, there is still a serious lack of trained and educated midwives, which many of these countries rely on to birth their babies. The 73 low- to middle-income countries profiled in the report—including countries like Mexico, Pakistan and India—account for 92% of global maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths, but only 42% of the world’s doctors, nurses, and midwives. In these countries, midwives, who are educated and regulated to international standards, can provide 87% of essential care for women and newborns.

The report, which aims to help countries accelerate progress on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—a set of health and development goals that an intentional consortium of NGOs and governments hope to reach by 2015—says that an investment in educating more midwives across the globe could prevent about two thirds of all maternal and newborn deaths.

In the U.S., many doctors remain skeptical of midwifery. Fewer than 1% of American babies are born in home deliveries, which are mostly tended to by midwives. There can also be confusion over which types of midwives are qualified to perform different procedures, as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians endorse only midwives trained by the American Midwifery Certification Board.

Still, the report presents optimistic numbers about the impact of midwifery in other countries, showing properly trained midwives can provide quality care. As the populations in these countries continue to grow, the gap in health care professionals and other critical resources will widen. Researchers expect the world’s number of pregnancies per year will remain constant at 166 million until 2030. In order to provide all women of reproductive age with universal access to quality midwifery until then, the report says countries need to focus on areas like availability, accessibility, and acceptability of properly trained midwives.

Beyond the recommendations for quality midwives, the report acknowledges that mother and child mortality in developing countries also depend highly on access to a wide range of family planning resources. This includes comprehensive sex education and recommendations for delaying marriage to keep young women safe. Women should have access to modern birth control methods and support during pregnancy. Disparities in health resources for women and children around the world is unacceptable, and there’s a lot of work to be done if countries still want to reach Millennium Development Goals by next year.

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