Train more midwives to save lives

This story was originally published by The National

Disturbing figures were released in March this year that Papua New Guinea has the lowest number of skilled birth attendants and needs 6,000 more to meet global standard. The 2019 Maternal and Newborn Health Task Force report says high maternal and newborn mortality in the country is partly because of lack of midwives or skilled birth attendants in health facilities.

The report adds there were so many factors that contribute to 2,000 women dying yearly during pregnancy or after giving birth which is one of the highest rates in the world. Most times, they are overlooked and referred to as just a health worker. Midwives are public health heroes, ensuring that a woman can have a healthy pregnancy, safe childbirth and essential care for her newborn – is among the most basic human rights.

Last week, a soldier from Rabaraba in Milne Bay on his 27th birthday visited the maternity ward at Mendi Hospital where he was born to thank the midwives. That gesture is one where most easily forget as we all take such things for granted. When given the opportunity, everyone should acknowledge these health heroes who operate under huge challenges everyday of their life especially in the rural areas. Most facilities in rural areas have no proper facilities in the maternity wards to support midwives in performing their work. Midwives not only save lives, they also empower women and couples to make informed, healthy choices.

A bridge between communities and traditional health facilities, midwives deliver vital maternal health services that are key to reducing maternal deaths and making childbirth safer in remote and underserved areas, and during humanitarian crises.Today, 73 countries from which data was collected have 96 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths, but only 42 per cent of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors. Some 30 million women do not give birth in a health facility and 45 million receive inadequate ante-natal care. The world has seen a steady decline in maternal and newborn deaths since 1990, in large part because more women are receiving skilled midwifery care: from 67 per cent in 2010 to 79 per cent in 2017.

More than 80 per cent of people in PNG live in rural and isolated areas. There is an estimated 250,000 births in PNG per year and most of them are in these rural areas. While it has been difficult to measure directly, it is well known that women and babies die in large numbers in PNG. The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that access to midwifery care saves the lives of mothers and their babies however there is a large unmet need for skilled and educated midwives in PNG.

PNG needs more midwives to save lives. Health reports say midwifery training schools has increased to five and 394 new midwives were educated between 2012 -2015 and more needs to be done including up skilling of community health workers and nurses around the country. Midwifery was included in the health workers’ training curriculum, however institutions lack the capacity to train a lot due to insufficient support from the government.

Our partners are ready to assist training and up skilled whatever resources we have and they require 100 per cent Government commitment. Government should support for midwifery education to improve maternal and neonatal health in PNG. Training midwives in PNG will save women’s lives.

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