Deaths could be prevented with universal access to nurse midwives

Dec. 4, 2020

About two-thirds of maternal deaths, newborn deaths and stillbirths could be prevented by 2035 if the current level of care by professional midwives educated and regulated to international standards was scaled up to provide universal access, finds a new study led by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization, and the International Confederation of Midwives, according to a press release.

The study was published in the Lancet Global Health.

The study’s estimates indicate that if midwife-delivered interventions – such as family planning, diabetes management, assisted delivery and breastfeeding support– took place, 4.3 million lives could be saved per year by 2035.

Greater investment in professional midwives could improve the survival of mothers and babies, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, the WHO said. To realize this potential, midwives need education and training to international standards, to be part of a supportive and skilled team, and work in an environment with adequate water, sanitation and medical supplies.

The study is based on modelled estimates of deaths averted in 88 low- and middle-income countries that account for more than 95 percent of global maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths. These countries have severe healthcare workforce shortages: they are home to 74 percent of the world’s population but just 46 percent of the world’s doctors, nurses and midwives, the WHO said.

The new study follows a 2014 publication in The Lancet Series in Midwifery and uses the Lives Saved Tool (LiST), which models variations in deaths based on the uptake, effectiveness and impact of about 30 midwife delivered interventions. Using an updated version of LiST, the current study provides three scenarios on the impact of increasing the provision of midwife healthcare around the world. The three scenarios include: achieving universal coverage by 2035; increasing coverage of midwife-delivered interventions by 25 percent every 5 years; or increasing coverage by 10 percent every 5 years.

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