Advocacy, Enabling Environment

From COP28 to IDM: Midwives’ Role in Climate Action 

1 April 2024

By Neha Mankani.

Last year, I had the opportunity to share the crucial connection between midwives, maternal health and climate change at an event at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28). The event, led by UNFPA and co-hosted by various global health stakeholders, was part of a series of events in the first ever Health Day in the history of COP. 

This event convened experts to address climate change’s impact on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH), discuss challenges, and propose scalable, locally driven solutions. A recurring theme throughout the event was the crucial role of midwives in addressing these challenges and building resilience. 

Midwives provide essential care to mothers and newborns, often in community settings, with a minimal carbon footprint. This sustainable approach positions them as an asset in the fight against climate change. By sharing my firsthand experiences working in climate-affected communities and during climate disasters, along with emphasizing the involvement of midwives and ICM in climate change preparedness and response, I was able to highlight the inherent sustainability of the continuity of midwife care model. 

The conversations around maternity care, climate change and midwifery also shed light on a crucial but often overlooked aspect – the impact of heat and climate challenges on healthcare providers themselves and the vital link between extreme heat and the quality of respectful maternity care. This emphasizes the need to consider the well-being of healthcare providers alongside that of mothers and newborns. Midwives too are affected by climate change-working and commuting in extreme heat, often impacting their ability to perform to full capacity. Also important in this conversation is the role of climate friendly health facilities that help support sustainable care and mitigate the role of climate change in provision of care and its continuity. 

While the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, endorsed by 123 countries, offers a glimmer of hope for a future with better-equipped health systems and reduced emissions, it is crucial to remain cautiously optimistic. The true test lies in translating high-level commitments into tangible action at the local level. Only then can we ensure that these promises truly impact the lives of communities and the midwives who serve them. 

With the theme of this year’s International Day of the Midwife (IDM) being “Midwives: A Vital Climate Solution” now is a better time than ever to emphasize the importance of empowering healthcare providers, particularly midwives, to effectively address the challenges posed by climate change and building true resilience. This empowerment entails three key aspects: 

  • Enabling Environments: Ensuring midwives have the necessary infrastructure and support to practice autonomously and to their full scope of practice. This includes access to essential resources and a supportive work environment, even during the worst consequences of climate change. 
  • Knowledge Equity: Equipping midwives with the latest evidence on the links between climate change and MNCH. This knowledge empowers them to take informed action, advocate for change within their communities, and contribute to improved health outcomes. 
  • Representation and influence: Giving midwives a voice in disaster prevention and preparedness efforts, ensuring their perspectives are considered in decision-making processes at all levels. This includes representation in policy discussions, resource allocation, and leadership roles within healthcare systems and disaster response teams. 

While the impact of climate change on MNCH is widely acknowledged, the disproportionate effects on women’s health and access to healthcare require further exploration and resource allocation. While COP28 served as a valuable platform for discussing the critical role of midwives in mitigating climate change’s impact on MNCH, it should be seen as a starting point rather than an endpoint. To build a resilient future, we must promote sustainable, community-based care, empower healthcare providers with resources and autonomy, and foster continuous knowledge sharing. 

Beyond addressing these points, it is crucial to amplify the voices of midwives and advocate for a deeper understanding of the unique challenges they face. Recognizing the intricate link between climate, gender, and maternal health is essential for creating a future where climate action and sustainable healthcare go hand in hand. 

Join the International Confederation of Midwives during IDM to advocate for investment, resources, autonomy, recognition, and a seat at every decision-making table for midwives.