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New Report Sounds The Alarm On Global Shortage Of 900,000 Midwives


Report launched
on the International Day of the Midwife 2021 with
significant implications for Asia-Pacific and

Fully investing in
midwives by 2035 would avert roughly two-thirds of maternal,
newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives per

Bangkok, 5 May 2021
— Millions of lives of women and
newborns are lost, and millions more experience ill health
or injury, because the needs of pregnant women and skills of
midwives are not recognized or prioritized.

The world
is currently facing a shortage of 900,000 midwives, which
represents a third of the required global midwifery
workforce. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated these
problems, with the health needs of women and newborns being
overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and
midwives being deployed to other health

These are some of the key takeaways from the
State of World’s Midwifery report
(the UN sexual and reproductive health agency), WHO (World
Health Organization), International Confederation of
Midwives (ICM) and partners, which evaluates the midwifery
workforce and related health resources in 194

The acute shortage of midwives is exacting
a terrible global toll in the form of preventable deaths. An
analysis conducted for this report, published in the
last December, showed that fully resourcing
midwife-delivered care by 2035 could avert 67 per cent of
maternal deaths, 64 per cent of newborn deaths and 65 per
cent of stillbirths. It could save an estimated 4.3 million
lives per year.

Despite alarms raised in the last State
of the World’s Midwifery report in 2014
, which also
provided a roadmap on how to remedy this deficit, progress
over the past eight years has been too slow. The analysis in
this year’s report shows that, at current rates of
progress, the situation will have improved only slightly by

Gender inequality is an unacknowledged driver in
this massive shortage. The continued under-resourcing of the
midwifery workforce is a symptom of health systems not
prioritizing the sexual and reproductive health needs of
women and girls, and not recognizing the role of midwives
– most of whom are women – to meet these needs. Women
account for 93 per cent of midwives and 89 per cent of

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. As numbers of midwives increase, and they are able
to provide care in an enabling environment, the health of
women and newborns improves as a whole, benefitting all of

For midwives to achieve their life-saving and
life-changing potential, greater investment is needed in
their education and training, midwife-led service delivery,
and midwifery leadership. Governments must prioritise
funding and support for midwifery and take concrete steps to
include midwives in determining health

Quotes from partners:

Franka Cadée, President of the International Confederation
of Midwives:

“As autonomous, primary
care providers, midwives are continually overlooked and
ignored. It’s time for governments to acknowledge the
evidence surrounding the life-promoting, life-saving impact
of midwife-led care, and take action on the SoWMy report’s
recommendations. ICM is committed to leveraging the strength
of our global midwife community to carry forward these
powerful findings and inspire country-level change. However,
this work is not possible without commitment from decision
makers and those with the resources to invest in midwives
and the quality care they provide to birthing

Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive

“The State of the World’s
Midwifery report sounds the alarm that currently the world
urgently needs 1.1 million more essential health workers to
deliver sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn and
adolescent health care, and 80 per cent of these missing
essential health workers are midwives. A capable,
well-trained midwife can have an enormous impact on
childbearing women and their families – an impact often
passed on from one generation to the next. At UNFPA, we have
spent more than a decade strengthening education, enhancing
working conditions and supporting leadership roles for the
midwifery profession. We have seen that these efforts work,
but they need greater investment.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO

“Midwives play a
vital role in reducing the risks of childbirth for women all
over the world, but many have themselves been exposed to
risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. This
report provides the data and evidence to support WHO’s
longstanding call to strengthen the midwifery workforce,
which will deliver a triple dividend in contributing to
better health, gender equality and inclusive economic


launch of the 2021
State of World’s Midwifery report
policy recommendations to improve sexual, reproductive,
maternal, newborn and adolescent health service delivery and
midwifery leadership and governance.

These policy
recommendations will be the subject of a meeting of health
ministers on 18 May and a dialogue at the 74th World Health
Assembly (24 May), where WHO Member States are anticipated
to adopt the evidence-based Global Strategic Directions for
Nursing and Midwifery 2021-2025 with a Resolution on nursing

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