Midwives: A Resource to Invest In

Photo: International Medical Corps

Every minute, a woman dies due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. That adds up to more than 500,000 deaths every year, the overwhelming majority of which occur in the developing world. And for every death, there are 30 more women who suffer debilitating injuries.

May 5th is the International Day of the Midwife. This year’s theme, The World Needs Midwives More Than Ever, could not be more appropriate.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that a woman dies every 28 minutes during childbirth in Afghanistan. To compare, the lifetime risk in industrialized countries is one in 8,000. 

In the developing world, few pregnant women are accompanied by a trained birth attendant, let alone a skilled midwife or doctor. For uncomplicated pregnancies, trained birth attendants are able to provide clean deliveries. However, when complications such as hemorrhage, hypertension, and obstructed labor occur, the mother – and her child – need more advanced care provided by a midwife in a health facility.

The majority of maternal deaths occur during labor or within 24 hours of labor, making the immediate availability of midwives absolutely critical to protect maternal and child health. Only trained midwives, nurses, and doctors – not traditional birth attendants – working in a supportive environment have the ability to provide this level of support, known as basic emergency obstetric care.

Because of this, International Medical Corps provides midwifery training programs in the parts of the world where maternal mortality is the highest, such as Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, 1,600 of every 100,000 Afghan mothers die because of complications giving birth, making it second to only Sierra Leone for the highest number of maternal deaths in the world. This rate is 123 times higher than that of the United States.

Afghanistan’s devastatingly high infant mortality rate is largely due to the fact that only 14-percent of women are accompanied by a skilled attendant, according to the World Health Organization. International Medical Corps is addressing this problem by training women to become skilled midwives. More than 2,000 women have completed International Medical Corps' midwifery education programs since they were initiated in 2003.

One of these women is Rabia, a young midwife who put herself through school to learn to read and write so she could attend International Medical Corps’ midwifery training program in Khost.  Read more of her incredible story.


For 30 years, International Medical Corps has worked to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease by delivering vital health care services that focus on training, helping devastated populations return to self-reliance.