Measuring a nation’s strength through the health of its mothers and babies


In a mini-blog series ICM is highlighting the role of midwives in family planning. The series continues with a guest blog from World Vision and their Child Health Now campaign, written by Sue England who is a midwife and World Vision International’s maternal, newborn and child health technical director, providing advice and technical support to World Vision health projects around the world.

In French a midwife is a “sage femme” or wise woman. I believe every woman wants and deserves a wise woman to care for them during labour and birth. That is why I, and World Vision's Child Health Now campaign are supporting the International Day of the Midwife, on 5th May. 
The challenges facing a nation’s health system can be measured by counting the deaths of its mothers and babies. Although many nations have made great strides in reducing maternal and newborn deaths, there are still more than 280,000 maternal deaths and 3 million newborn deaths each year.

Having worked as a midwife for more than 25 years, with much of the last 13 years in some of the world’s poorest nations, I have sadly been a witness to much suffering and death during childbirth and the first days of life. Why? In many places, midwives are not adequately supported by the rest of the health system – there may be just one midwife to manage many births, essential drugs may be out of stock and equipment may not be available to help her do the job. If she detects complications there may be no ambulances to call; there may be delays in referring the mother to obstetric help in distant hospitals. When the necessary things are not available to a midwife, women and babies will continue to die. Even worse, in many other places there simply are no midwives and births are conducted by untrained health staff. Some 45 million births occur at home without the help of a midwife.

World Vision is working in most of the countries that are facing the biggest challenges. This is why I chose to join World Vision five years ago.
In my many visits to World Vision’s maternal, newborn and child health projects, I have been heartened to see men and women, local governments, local village committees and chiefs all talking about maternal, newborn and child health. Even three years ago, this was rare. But I also know that talk is only the first step and we have a long way to go, at all levels, to assist our partner governments to bring midwives and health services to where they are needed, and to support communities to improve their own maternal, newborn and child health knowledge and increase efforts to reach midwives.

Globally, as recently as 10 years ago, the needs of pregnant women, newborn babies and young children—especially in rural regions—were largely ignored. Gender inequity, a lack of political will and the urgent need to focus on HIV were just some of the reasons.
In 2003—and almost every year since—The Lancet medical journal has published a series of maternal, newborn and child health research papers which became a catalyst for global action. Around six years ago, when it was shown that the Millennium Development Goals relating to maternal and child health were lagging, the national leaders began to recognise that pregnant women, newborns and young children were missing out.

World Vision is helping at all levels: serving as a voice for children and mothers at global conferences, helping ministries of health make the case for increased allocations from national budgets, collecting data on whether the money is making its way to the local level, and providing training to community healthcare workers to enable linkages with midwives. World Vision is now starting to provide mobile technology to healthcare workers to help ensure that they are able to communicate with the rest of the healthcare system.

It is through such partnerships at all levels that we can, together, ensure that not only are midwives available to all who need them, but also that these midwives have access to the rest of a nation’s health system. One new partnership that World Vision is excited to announce is its partnership with the International Confederation of Midwives. The two organisations are initially partnering to promote child survival and midwifery on 5 May. We are inviting concerned citizens of all countries to join the International Day of the Midwife and Survive 5 Day on 5 May. Add your voice and help all mothers and newborns survive -

 survive 5 graphic