UN sexual and reproductive health agency reports global shortage of 1M midwives

The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UN Population Fund Agency (UNFPA), released a statement on Sunday in celebration of the International Day of the Midwife. It reported the risks related to a global shortage of around one million midwives.

The agency highlighted the essential role midwives play, mainly during humanitarian disasters, in preventing maternal deaths and providing “mobile” and urgent health services to women. The shortage, however, puts women and girls at risk of being vulnerable to issues related to pregnancy, childbirth, and sexual and reproductive health. According to 2023 data, around  287,000 women die every year from childbirth. The agency nonetheless previously reported a substantial but still lacking development has been made in preventing maternal deaths.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said in a statement:

[T]here remains a critical global shortage of around a million midwives. Their working conditions can be arduous, discouraging many from joining the profession. Overt gender discrimination against this largely female workforce has also resulted in low wage rates, limited opportunities for advancement and reports of sexual harassment on the job.

Without significantly expanding midwifery, more women will die in childbirth. Millions of stories will have no heroes, and instead end in tragedy.

The UNFPA stressed that apart from the global shortage, an international commitment to ensure the development of the midwives’ profession is urgently needed to provide them with quality education, and the resources necessary to empower them.

Ahead of the International Day of the Midwife, the UNFPA reported the important work midwives do during humanitarian crises. In the Kalambari refugee camp in Chad, which hosts many refugees from Cameroon (most of whom are women and children), “[36] cases of premature births and [23 cases of] rape” were handled, according to a midwife working at the camp. The agency said midwives at the refugee camp have prevented maternal deaths and provided “a range of sexual and reproductive health services, including those related to family planning, pregnancy, and childbirth”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a video of a Palestinian midwife and head nurse at the Al-Emarati hospital in Gaza Samar Nazmi Muwafi to mark the day. In the video, she talks about the hardships women face amid the war in Gaza.

The UNFPA also announced the initiation of a “Global Midwifery Acceleration Roadmap” in partnership with UNICEF,  WHO and the International Confederation of Midwives, among others,  to be launched at the World Health Summit later this year 2024.