Steve Fouch

Missing midwives costs mothers’ lives

Steve Fouch is CMF Head of Nursing, and formerly worked in community nursing, HIV & AIDS and palliative care. He serves on the International and European regional boards of Nurses Christian Fellowship International.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

On 1 April 2011 Save the Children launched a campaign to find the missing midwives.

Save the Children’s recent research suggests that globally we need 350,000 midwives, and that this shortage of skilled birth attendants means as few as 6% of women in some developing countries have access to skilled birth attendants. As a result there are as many as 1,000 women and 2,000 children dying daily, many of whose lives could be saved if a trained midwife was present.

350,000 seems a remarkably small number and an achievable target. However, when you consider that the UK itself is also short of midwives, perhaps it is not a surprise that this gap has not been as easy to bridge as at first it seemed. As birth rates rise in the UK, we seem to be training fewer midwives. Most midwives I know work in understaffed, over stressed units, and yet still manage to deliver a generally high standard of care that ensures that not only are the vast majority of British babies delivered safely, they are also delivered in a way that makes for a meaningful and happy experience for the mother. One wonders for how much longer though, as we fail to train new midwives and support effectively those already working in the profession. As DFID gets behind the Save the Children campaign, it is worrying that other parts of the national and devolved governments are at best playing catch up and at worst reducing the numbers of midwives in this country!

However, in many parts of the world, there is no such provision. Partly this is an issue of poverty, and partly a mixture of cultural and political values that do not prioritise motherhood or the life and health of women and children. As we at CMF highlighted in our submission to DFID’s maternal health strategy consultation, it is only by addressing these issues, as well as the provision of trained midwives, obstetricians, and appropriate medical supply chains etc., that we can turn around the gross inequality in maternal health and survival around the globe.

It is ironic, on Mother’s Day, to consider a world that really does not value mothers and motherhood. We live in a culture here in the UK that has such a disordered sense of human value that it does not train enough midwives, but instead prioritises free prescription of abortifacient post coital conception. In the process we are failing to address the deeper issues of fractured relationships and disordered sexuality that leads us to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Western world. And as MPs seek to increase the amount of information, counselling and professional support being provided to women seeking an abortion, they are attacked for trying to harm women. In other parts of the world a man will let his wife die rather than incur the cost of getting her to a hospital – other wives are always available, while his government will not put any money into training midwives who could have helped her deliver her child more safely at home. It is a sobering thought, as we celebrate our mothers this Sunday. We need to do more than give a few gifts to say thanks to our mothers; we need to take action to seek to see motherhood properly supported around the world, and here at home.

To sign the Save the Children petition to the UK Development Secretary and support the global drive for more midwives click here.

Posted by Steve Fouch
CMF Head of Allied Professions Ministries

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