May 5—Today, as we celebrate International Day of the
Midwife, thousands of families in Malawi recognize the important contributions
midwives have made for improved maternal, newborn and child health. In partnership with other health care
providers and communities, midwives helped Malawi reduce child mortality over
the past fifteen years as part of the Millennium Development Goals. Malawi is
only one of a handful of countries to boast this achievement. Yet, newborn
deaths remain quite high in Malawi.
Globally, every year fifteen million babies are born preterm
(born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed) and approximately one million
die due to complications related to early birth. Currently, complications
related to preterm birth are the greatest cause of deaths among children under
five in the world. In addition, babies who are born too small—below 2500
grams—also contribute to high child mortality. Malawi has the highest incidence
of preterm birth, babies born too soon, in the world. There are also a
significant number of babies who are born too small.
The Ministry of Health is working with professional
associations, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, community
leaders and health care professionals to build services for improved health
among pregnant women and newborns. Many families and care takers believe that
babies born too soon or too small can’t survive. The good news is that most early and small babies
can survive with basic, essential
care including warming through skin-to-skin contact, breast feeding support and
the prevention of infections.
well placed to support mothers and families with early and small babies to use
simple and effective low cost interventions to improve newborn survival. Malawi
is well known for its Kangaroo Mother Care units, currently operating in more
than 122 health
facilities in the country. Kangaroo Mother Care ensures that early and small
babies are kept warm with skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, fathers and
other care takers. Midwives support
mothers and families who have early and small babies to learn how to safely
practice Kangaroo Mother Care to ensure that these vulnerable newborns get the
warmth, food and care they need to survive and thrive.
Midwives also promote and support the
prevention of preterm birth through quality antenatal care including good
nutrition throughout pregnancy, screening for related risk factors such as
prior preterm birth, malaria, urinary tract infections, HIV and pregnancy at an
early age. Midwives are also important providers during labor and delivery.
They are trained to recognize preterm labor and to provide life-saving care to
mothers and their early babies. Midwives also recognize when a newborn is born
too soon or too small and can begin important early care including referral to
more advanced or specialized care.
Malawi’s health care professionals
provide essential care every day to promote the health and well-being of the
country’s most precious commodity—its newborns. Today, in celebration of
International Day of the Midwife, take a midwife’s hands into yours and thank
her for her service to Malawi’s families and future.
About the authors: Judith Robb-McCord and Elimase Kamanga are the
Director and Technical Advisor, respectively, of Every Preemie—SCALE, a
USAID-funded project working with national stakeholders and the Ministry of
Health in Balaka District to prevent and care for early and small babies. For
more information on Every Preemie—SCALE, visit www.everypreemie.org.