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UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in Zambia is pleased to join the Government, partners and the people of Zambia in commemorating the 2016 International Day of the Midwife under the theme “Women and Newborns at the Heart of Midwifery”.

Zambia has recorded significant progress in reducing maternal mortality rates, from 726 per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 398 per 100,000 live births in 2014. Ensuring that skilled midwifery personnel are available has been critical for this achievement. Current national data indicates that Zambia has increased the number of births assisted by a skilled attendant from 50% in 1992 to 64% in 2014. If deployed in larger numbers, especially in rural areas, trained midwives could avert approximately two thirds of these deaths.

More needs to be done to sustain the gains recorded and in this regard, the United Nations Population Fund in Zambia is committed to sustaining its partnership with the Government, other national and international partners to address challenges related to improving midwifery workforce within a supportive health system. UNFPA has supported the development of a Bachelor of Science Midwifery Curriculum to improve the quality and skills within the national midwifery workforce; the review of existing midwifery curricula to ensure consistency with international standards; sponsoring the education and training of midwives, while also providing educational materials, supplies and equipment. In addition, UNFPA is supporting the engagement of retired midwives to meet existing human resource gaps in providing services in rural and most underserved areas; while also collaborating with the Midwives Association of Zambia; and General Nursing Council.

Such efforts will deliver on women’s rights to health and ensure that women and newborn infants obtain the care they need and contribute to the global and national shared vision of ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths by 2030.

The following are underscored in the message of the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin;

  On this International Day of the Midwife, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, salutes the contribution of midwives to saving the lives of women, adolescent girls and newborns, sometimes under very difficult circumstances, in hard-to-reach communities, in humanitarian emergencies, and in fragile and conflict-torn countries.

Well-trained and supported midwives working in communities are uniquely positioned to provide the compassionate, respectful and culturally sensitive care a woman needs during pregnancy and childbirth. Midwifery is equally important for newborns during the critical first month of life, and is a significant contribution to sexual and reproductive health in general.

Midwives are, therefore, essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In the past 25 years, the world has almost halved maternal deaths, but every year, some 300,000 women still die during pregnancy and childbirth, and almost 3 million babies do not survive their first four weeks of life. A vast majority of these largely preventable deaths take place in developing and crisis-affected countries. If deployed in larger numbers, trained midwives could avert approximately two thirds of these deaths. Significant investments in midwifery are essential if the world is to achieve its ambitious goals of reducing maternal and newborn deaths.

UNFPA is helping train and support thousands of midwives in more than 100 countries. A recent survey estimated that in 57 of these countries, UNFPA has trained 66,000 midwives over the past seven years. These critical health-care providers can help more than 11 million women to give birth safely each year, but much more needs to be done.

On this International Day of the Midwife, we at UNFPA renew our commitment to working with global partners and countries to strengthen midwifery skills and capacities. We call on countries to acclaim and reward midwives who are working in challenging and hard-to-reach areas, where their services are most needed. We also urge countries to invest in quality training, good working conditions, decent salaries, adequate workforce policies and possibilities for professional growth.

Midwives are our heroes and the backbone of sexual and reproductive health. Let us support them and the women and newborns at the heart of their care.