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Report Calls for Hundreds of Thousands New Midwives, Other Health Professionals

African women waiting for care

An international group of midwives is calling for a dramatic increase in midwifery services especially in remote poor areas, so the lives of many more women and their babies can be saved. The World Health Organization says more than two million women and infants die during pregnancy or childbirth every year, and a large number of those deaths occur in developing countries. The goal is to hire and train at least 300,000 more midwives by the year 2015.

The numbers sound staggering: Two million preventable maternal deaths, stillbirths and newborn deaths every year.

And a new report called "Countdown to 2015" says the cure is more midwives. Almost half of the women living in 68 countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia give birth without a midwife, doctor or a skilled birth attendant.

A multitude of experts from the World Health Organization, Aga Khan University and other groups compiled the report.

If we can get midwifery coverage out there, we can reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality by 90 percent. And that will make a tremendous difference to the health and well being of mothers and their newborns," said Bridget Lynch, the president of the International Confederation of Midwives.

The World Health Organization is calling for the recruitment, training and funding of at least 330-thousand new midwives in these regions.

The Countdown report calls for 700,000 new midwives and health care workers to provide childbirth services for women all over the globe.

Bridget Lynch says midwives have not gotten the respect they deserve and are often poorly paid.

"Governments have been trying to find cheaper, quicker fixes in terms of educating different [cadres?] of health care workers with midwifery skills, and the world is not recognizing the need. We need to educate midwives to supervise these [cadres?], to be training them and also to be providing services on the ground," she said.

The WHO says one additional midwife in a health care facility can help deliver as many as 220 babies yearly.

In South Africa, midwife Precious Robinson says the shortage is made worse by many women leaving the profession.

"Midwives are leaving the country. Some are retiring. Some are dying and being affected by HIV and AIDS… and all… here's a huge problem. But with more resources, I think we can do more. We can train more and [meet] capacity… because clearly our hospitals are understaffed. Our facilities are clearly understaffed," said Robinson.

The International Confederation of Midwives says with the support of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and large non-profit organizations, it is more optimistic about getting the funding needed to recruit these new trainees and deploy them into the communities where they are needed.