by Jessica Hawkinson, Seminar Program Coordinator
Presbyterian United Nations Office

According to a September 2008 UNICEF report, 50 million births in the developing world remain unattended each year—dramatically increasing the risk of both infant and maternal fatalities.(1) With millions of deaths and injuries as a result of inadequate health care for women, the pressure to meet the 5th Millennium Development Goal of Improving Maternal Health is all the more tangible. A few statistics from the recent UNICEF report put the status of maternal health and its accompanying MDG into perspective:

  • Each year, more than half a million women die from pregnancy-related causes and an estimated 10 million experience injuries, infections, disease or disability that can cause lifelong suffering.
  • More than 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with some 84 percent concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • Huge disparities in maternal care exist between the developing and developed world. In the developing world, the risk of death from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth over the course of a woman’s lifetime is one in 76, compared with one in 8,000 in the industrialized world. In Niger that risk is estimated to be one in seven.
  • For more statistics, the UNICEF report can be viewed in full

In the midst of such overwhelming statistics, innovative efforts to bring change are being supported by United Nations organizations, as well as non-governmental and faith organizations. One recent initiative seeks to train and give power to local midwives as birth attendants and prenatal health staff. According to a UN news report, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) are embarking on a $9-million initiative to train, support, and build networks among midwives in the developing world.(2) Faith-based organizations are also actively engaged in supporting similar programs for improving global maternal health care.

Funding training for birth attendant and midwife programs in the developing world has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for both women and their children. In addition, programs like that of UNFPA and ICM could encourage the legitimacy of birth attendants as both medical professionals and members of the work force. Such legitimacy could also promote a fairer caregiving economy for women in medical professions.

To learn more about the new UN-supported midwife training initiative, read:

For more information about maternal health and UN initiatives in this field, visit:

Endnotes
(1) Progress for Children: A Report Card on Maternal Mortality. UNICEF, 2008. http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Progress_for_Children-No._7_Lo-Res_082008.pdf, p. 9
(2) “UN-endorsed initiative to train midwives could save hundreds of thousands of lives.” 22 September 2008, UN News Centre. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=28150&Cr=UNFPA&Cr1=