At Triennial Conference, A Call To Strengthen Midwifery, Maternal Health Globally

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The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), the worldwide professional association of midwives, is holding their first meeting in Africa this week, in Durban, South Africa. The theme of the 29th Triennial Congress is “Midwives talking the ‘Big 5’ globally”, referring to the five major health concerns for childbearing women, and for midwives in Africa.

In her remarks at the opening plenary, ICM President Bridget Lynch noted the important role midwives play in protecting the welfare of childbearing families and meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“We would like to have a midwife attending to every woman giving birth as a midwife is a midwife everywhere,” said Lynch. She observed that midwifery was the first health care profession that established educational standards. She noted, however, that midwifery educational standards differed from country to country and made a call to action to strengthen midwifery globally and the educational capacity.

In highlighting key events taking place at the congress, Lynch pointed to the launch of a major global report, the State of the World’s Midwifery 2011: Delivering Health, Saving Lives, led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), with contributions from 26 agencies ICM. The conference programme was organized by the Society of Midwives’ of South Africa, intended to strengthen the capacity of midwives to tackle five major health issues for childbearing women:

  1. Lack of prenatal care
  2. HIV/AIDS, which has devastated communities and healthcare systems
  3. Nonpregnancy-related infections and diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis
  4. Hypertension
  5. Sepsis during pregnancy, after abortion and after childbirth

In her welcome remarks, Deputy Health Minister of South Africa Dr. Gwen Ramakgoba observed that there was need for midwives to enable women of the world to have safe pregnancies and ensure access to medical services for women in an effort to promote safe motherhood.

“One of the greatest gifts of midwifery is to hear the cry of the baby and see a smile on the mother,” said Dr Ramakgoba.

She urged midwives to listen carefully to mothers, and learn more about what works for them in the use of family planning. In terms of midwifery practice, she said there was need to improve the workplace environment and also improve staff retention. She called on the assembly to monitor the migration of skilled midwives and nurses to better paying jobs in cities or developed countries. She noted that one of the key factors hampering progress in reducing maternal mortality rates was the inability to retain skilled workers in the most affected regions.

ICM also recognized the achievements of three midwives during the opening plenary. One of those recognized was Madina Rashidi, who received the “Save the Children Everyone Midwife Award 2011.” Rashidi is a community midwife in Qarqin, Afghanstan, a rural district in Jawzjan province, Afghanistan. She was the only woman living in her district who had completed high school and her community selected her to attend midwifery school. In 2009, she returned to the village where she is the only midwife in the only health centre, providing coverage 24 hours a day. Most women in her region deliver at home either with the help of a relative, a traditional birth attendant or alone. Rashidi changed centuries of tradition, persuading men to allow their wives to come to the health centre to give birth. Through her tireless efforts, women are increasingly coming for antenatal care, assisted childbirth and postnatal care.

Other honorees are Catherine Oluwatoyi Ojo who works in Northern Nigeria, who received another ICM/Save the Children EVERY ONE Midwife Award 2011; Dr Christina Mudokwenyu-Rawdon of Zimbabwe, who received the Marie Goubran Award in recognition of her leadership in midwifery education.


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