June 3, 2014

Midwives: Bridging the North-South divide

Written by Emma Saloranta, Girls' Globe blogger

This post originally appeared on the Girls’ Globe website here. Reposted with permission.

In the early 1900s, Finland had one of the highest child mortality rates in Europe. In 1922, the first Maternity and Child Health Clinic was opened in Finland, bringing the services of trained nurses, midwives and doctors to the reach of women and their families during and after pregnancy and childbirth. While at first clinics were available mainly in urban areas, soon their availability, and the availability of skilled and trained midwives and nurses, was made a mandatory legal responsibility for all municipalities – and as these free services tailored to mothers and children became widely available across the country, both maternal and child mortality rates in Finland decreased drastically.

Today, all mothers in Finland attend special maternity clinics during their pregnancy, where they are attended by highly skilled nurse midwives and other health professionals who monitor their and their baby’s health, provide them with crucial information and advice, and ensure that their pregnancies are progressing safely. Finnish mothers are lucky, and now live in a country ranked the best in the world for mothers and their babies to live in. Midwives have played a crucial role in bringing our country to this stage, and in ensuring that mothers and babies get to experience safe pregnancies and deliveries everywhere in the country.

But millions of mothers and babies are not as lucky – and maternal and child survival should not be a matter of luck. Out of the 800 women who continue to die daily of childbirth, 99% die in developing countries, where only 46% of women have access to skilled care during pregnancy and birth. Most of both maternal and newborn deaths are preventable, and millions of lives could be saved if women had access to skilled and trained midwives and other birth attendants both during their pregnancy, and during labor and childbirth.According to UNFPA,

In all countries that have achieved dramatic improvements in maternal mortality, professionally trained midwives have been a key to success. They play an essential role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

Midwives save lives of mothers, their babies, and entire families. They also play a key role in ensuring that mothers and babies stay healthy throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and after the baby is born. Although the first 24 hours have been found to be the most dangerous for both mother and child, maternal and newborn survival is also about ensuring that mothers and babies remain healthy, nourished and attended to past childbirth. Midwives are the key to delivering life saving information to expectant mothers and their partners, and can also play a crucial role in providing sexual and reproductive health education to young people, so that they can take control of their sexuality and fertility and avoid unwanted and early pregnancies. Pregnant women face the same challenges everywhere in the world, and the value of our life, and the lives of our babies, should be the same everywhere – but our access to life saving services and information is drastically different depending on where we live. Our needs, dreams, hopes and fears are the same – we want to experience safe and happy pregnancies, bring our babies into this world healthy, protected and uninjured and give them the best start to life they possibly can have – but our ability to do that is different depending on where in the world we are and what our socio-economic status is.

Right now, safe pregnancy is a lottery – and the gap between the North and the South, or the wealthy countries and poor countries, is dangerously wide. Midwives can be the foundational building block to bridging that gap, to ensuring that all women, despite where they are born, get to enjoy safe, healthy and happy pregnancies with the help and support of skilled birth attendants – but this requires commitment and investment. We need to elevate the value of midwives and invest in their training and availability. We need to ensure that midwives have access to the equipment, medication and facilities they need in order for them to be able to serve mothers and babies to the best of their abilities. We need to make sure that midwives are available everywhere – including the most remote and rural areas – so that no mother has to go through pregnancy and childbirth unattended and die because of lack of trained assistance.

Pregnancy and motherhood are among the most incredible journeys women experience, and they should be marked by joy and happiness – not fear, danger and loss. Join us in celebrating the crucial and life-saving work of midwives around the world! Let’s bridge the gap between the North and the South and enable midwives to be the life-savers they have the potential to be. There is no work as valuable as that of saving the lives of mothers and their babies – and it is time to give that work the appreciation it deserves.