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Kenya needs greater investments in midwifery for life-saving maternity care

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Today, the world celebrates International Day of the Midwife, taking stock of the work done by this valuable cadre of health workers in our maternity units and other service delivery points of maternal and newborn care.

It has been a challenging season since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. It is worth reiterating that pregnancies do not stop even with crises. The theme of this year’s celebration, ‘Follow the data, invest in midwives’, is a call on governments and all key stakeholders to use the data on maternal and newborn health, put money where it counts and invest in midwives.

Kenya has witnessed an increase in access and utilisation of skilled birth attendants driven by initiatives such as universal health coverage and the Linda Mama programme that offers free maternity care to mothers. The Beyond Zero campaign, spearheaded by the First Lady, has also influenced investment in high impact activities to promote maternal and child health.

However, deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth remain high. The most recently available data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey estimates that 362 maternal deaths occur in the country, per 100,000 live births. At the current estimated annual births, this translates to more than 5,000 women and girls dying due to complications of pregnancy or birth.

These deaths can be partly attributable to a shortage of professional midwives, denying women access to high-quality delivery care and emergency services. More than 85 per cent of the deaths can be prevented if we have well-trained, skilled, and motivated midwives.

Kenya is not the only country grappling with a shortage of midwives. The State of the World Midwifery Report 2021 shows that there is a global needs-based shortage of 900,000 midwives. Increased investment in midwives could save up to 4.3 million lives every year by averting 67 per cent of maternal deaths, 64 per cent of neonatal deaths, and 65 per cent of stillbirths globally.

Cognisant of the local human resource challenge, the Ministry of Health developed the 2017-2030 task sharing policy that expands the scope of the midwife to undertake life-saving measures on mothers and babies.