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Midwifery matters - Celebrating midwives

The International Day of the Midwife will provide an opportunity for the profession to refocus on the Millennium Development Goals

During the latter years of the 1980s many midwifery associations proposed the idea of celebrating midwives and midwifery internationally. As a result, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) decided to designate May 5 as the International Day of the Midwife and celebrated it for the first time in 1992.

For the past 22 years on May 5, midwives around the world think about their work and their global colleagues. They celebrate their achievements and remember how much still needs to be accomplished. As 2015 nears, midwives are particularly focused on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which relate to pregnant women and their newborns.

There are eight international development goals, which were established in 2000, to be achieved by 2015 following the adoption of the UN Millennium Declaration. They are:

  • To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • To achieve universal primary education
  • To promote gender equality and empower women
  • To reduce child mortality rates
  • To improve maternal health
  • To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • To ensure environmental sustainability
  • To develop a global partnership for development.

All of these goals are inextricably linked. However, the fourth and fifth goals are of particular importance for midwives. Maternal mortality has declined significantly since 1990. However, more than 300,000 women die each year as a result of complications associated with childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in low resource countries, with Sub-Saharan Africa bearing the biggest burden.

When maternal mortality rates are high, neonatal mortality rates are also a cause for concern. Infant mortality has declined considerably but neonatal mortality rates have not improved. Many women in developing countries do not have access to midwives or any healthcare professional during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.

In 2010, the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health stated that an extra 3.5 million healthcare workers were required to ensure improved health for women and their newborns. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005 had identified that an additional 334,000 midwives would be needed in the years to 2015. WHO recommends a ratio of one midwife for every 175 women. Many would argue that such a ratio is inadequate, but some countries, such as Rwanda, have only one midwife per 8,600 births.

Considering these figures, it is not surprising to find that since 2009 the ICM has used the slogan ‘The world needs midwives now more than ever’ for the International Day of the Midwife. Each year for the event, midwives and midwifery associations worldwide raise awareness of the centrality of their contribution to global health. They organise concerts, marches and rallies, as well as workshops and conferences in celebration of the profession.

Last year, the ICM and the United Nations Population Fund issued a joint statement reiterating their commitment to strengthening midwifery. The International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) also released a statement recognising that midwives are crucial in ‘the fight against maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality’ .

Each year in Ireland, the Essence of Midwifery Care Conference, hosted by the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, has been the main focus for midwifery celebrations. This year, the Coombe, in partnership with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) will host the conference on May 1.

In the lead up to May 5, the NMBI will hold the first Midwives Week to mark the recognition, in Ireland, of midwifery as a separate profession. The theme is ‘Promoting Safe Care for Mother and Baby’ and it runs from April 28 to May 2.

Mary Higgins is the international officer of the INMO Midwives Section

Midwifery matters - Celebrating midwives


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