No mother, anywhere in the world, should have to risk her life and that of her baby by going through childbirth without expert care. But every year 48 million women give birth without someone present who has recognised midwifery skills.2 More than 2 million women give birth completely alone, without even a friend or relative present to help them, making these some of the most dangerous moments of their lives.
The global shortage of 350,000 midwives4 means that many women and babies die from complications that could easily be prevented by a health worker with the right skills, the right equipment and the right support. There are 358,000 maternal deaths annually, and more than 800,000 babies die during childbirth each year. Millions more newborn lives are lost in the fi rst month of life. If births were routinely attended by midwives and skilled birth attendants with the right training and support, the lives of 1.3 million newborn babies a year could be saved (see page 3).
Save the Children has frontline experience of the power of midwives to save lives from our work in Niger and Angola, for example, where we have trained midwives; in Afghanistan, where we run a midwife college; and in Sierra Leone, where we run clubs for pregnant women and have upgraded health centres to provide 24-hour emergency care during delivery. Our experience around the world has shown us the reasons behind the shortage of midwives and what can be done to address it on both a local level and in terms of international political action.
Stopping women and children dying in childbirth is a moral imperative. Recruiting, training and supporting midwives is also critical to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child deaths by two-thirds (MDG 4) and maternal mortality by three-quarters (MDG 5).
This September, world leaders will meet in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. One year on from the launch of the UN Secretary-General's global strategy on women's and children's health, they will assess progress on their commitments.
Governments of rich and poor countries alike must use this meeting to build on the foundations of the global strategy and urgently take further steps to fi ll the global health worker shortage. Save the Children is calling on governments to make specific commitments and take concrete action towards recruiting, training, paying and deploying more midwives and health workers. With growing awareness and political support for maternal and child health, and key opportunities for change this year, now is the crucial moment to show the world why midwives matter.