Advocacy, Leadership

Farewell to Luc de Bernis, champion of midwives and midwifery

23 April 2024

Luc de Bernis, a longtime advocate for maternal and newborn health, honorary midwife and one of the champions of the State of the World’s Midwifery Reports, passed away peacefully on 06 April 2024, surrounded by his family and close friends. A close collaborator of ICM and a well-known name the global health community, we dedicate this obituary to his memory and his work. 

Luc was an experienced obstetrician-gynaecologist who worked in Senegal and Chad for many years, caring for women giving birth under difficult circumstances. Later, he helped lead the Making Pregnancy Safer team at WHO from 2001-2006. His career continued at UNFPA in Ethiopia, later serving on the Maternal Health Thematic Fund within the SRH branch of UNFPA, before retiring in 2015. 

Luc’s unwavering dedication to advancing maternal and newborn health, particularly midwife care, has left an indelible mark on the global health community. Throughout his rich career, this obstetrician-gynaecologist passionately championed the importance of midwives recognizing their pivotal role in ensuring safe and dignified childbirth experiences for women around the world.  

Luc’s dedication to midwifery was so profound that ICM honoured him as an honorary midwife during our international congress in Prague in 2014.      

During his tenure at UNFPA, Luc collaborated closely with ICM, working tirelessly to elevate the voices of midwives and ensure our representation at critical decision-making spaces. Among Luc’s key global contributions are his leadership in all the published State of the World’s Midwifery Reports (including three global reports and at least three regional reports) and The Lancet Series on Midwifery published in 2014. Luc was also a key member in the development and review of ICM’s Midwifery Services Framework (MSF), a programme that continues to run successfully in redesigning maternity services and strengthening the midwifery workforce. 

These critical documents helped advance advocacy efforts for the need for quality maternal and newborn health globally. Luc also supported midwives to understand these important documents and to make use of them for policy advocacy. 

Luc’s mentored and supported hundreds of midwives globally, earning him the respect and admiration of colleagues worldwide. He also championed several crucial initiatives such as the Young Midwife Leaders program, recognising the importance of nurturing the next generations of midwife leaders. He led by example, inspiring others with his dedication to women’s health and integrity, strongly supporting the recognition of midwives’ everywhere, but especially in French-speaking countries. 

In addition to his tireless advocacy efforts, Luc played a crucial role in the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, leading the Mano River Midwifery response and providing invaluable support to affected communities.  

Eager to keep supporting midwives in his retirement, Luc continued to work on projects including contributing to the State of the World’s Midwifery reports and supporting maternal death surveillance and response in numerous countries. 

Luc’s legacy extends far beyond his professional achievements; he is remembered as a compassionate, generous, and tireless advocate, always ready to lend a helping hand and provide support to his colleagues. He had an amazing way of making everyone feel valued and important regardless of their role or years of experience. His kindness, integrity, and commitment to women’s health will continue to inspire generations to come.  

ICM and midwives from around the world are grateful to Luc for his open, sustained commitment to midwives at all international, regional, and national conferences and meetings of all audiences. His speeches and arguments were always faithful to his values and his unwavering confidence in the role of well-resourced midwives in reducing maternal, perinatal and neonatal mortality rates worldwide. 

As we bid farewell to Luc, we remember his profound impact on the work of midwives and renew our commitment to carrying forward his vision of a world where every woman has access to the quality care she deserves. Our deepest condolences go to Luc’s family and those who loved him. 


Thank you to Atf Gherissi, Michaela Michel-Schuldt, Justine Le Lez, Camille Lejus, Caroline Homer, Sally Pairman  and Petra ten Hoope-Bender for bringing together an enormous group to prepare this tribute.