June 3, 2014

Midwives: We’re the changemakers!

Written by By Lennie Kamwendo, Health Commissioner, Malawi and former President of the Association of Midwives, Malawi; Chair of the Board of Trustees, White Ribbon Alliance Malawi

This post originally appeared on the White Ribbon Alliance’s website here. Reposted with permission.

It is with great pleasure that I return to the ICM to be greeted by so many familiar faces and importantly, so many new faces. The energy of this conference drives my belief that we can be the change we want to see in midwifery worldwide, we are the agents of that change and we must continue to call attention to the scandal that so many women in this world still do not have access to a midwife.

Midwives are the cornerstone to safe birth, healthy and happy mothers and newborns. We must show the world that ours is the right profession to invest in if we want to see longer-term social and economic advancement.

In Malawi, advocacy by White Ribbon Alliance has contributed to progress in the promotion of midwifery. We have pushed hard for our government to put policies in place to support midwifery care. But having the policy is only half of the battle. This is why we are working to make sure citizens in our country know their rights and can advocate to our government for better support and recognition of the profession of midwifery.

In my country, midwives must train as nurses first and then chose midwifery; we have no direct entry options. We see that those nurses who choose midwifery do not then have a defined career path – unlike nurses and other health professionals.

We are calling for midwives to get the respect they deserve, and we have seen quick progress. Our centre of excellence for Midwifery training was called the ‘Nursing College of Malawi’. We have advocated to change this; it is now the ‘Nursing & Midwifery College of Malawi’.

We are petitioning our new government to provide the resources to address the huge gap in midwives. We know the World Health Organization standard is to have 1 midwife for every 7 pregnant women; in Malawi we are nowhere near reaching this ratio.

If we do not raise our voices, we will not make faster progress. Something we see in Malawi that I know is common across many countries is that people can be afraid to confront authority. There is an entrenched fear of standing up and demanding our rights as citizens. Well, we at White Ribbon Alliance work to tackle this head on through solidarity and support to communities so that health workers can step up and be counted.

As we hurtle towards the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, we must ask ourselves, have we done enough as midwives to push our governments for more investment? What more can we do, right now, today? I implore each and every midwife to know the facts. Know what your government has promised and make sure you hold them to account. We as midwives commit to deliver women in a safe environment, with respect and dignity. Our governments must commit to deliver the support and finances to allow this to happen.