Safe maternal and newborn care the theme for today


17 September 2021

Today is World Patient Safety Day, 17 September, with the World Health Organization (WHO) urging all stakeholders to “Act now for safe and respectful childbirth’’, the theme for 2021 being “Safe maternal and newborn care”. 

One Adelaide registered midwife says what makes midwifery so rewarding and such a privilege is “empowering women and their partners into parenthood”.

“Just being there watching them hold their baby for the first time, holding a happy, healthy baby, even just assisting them achieve that labour and birth outcome that they really wanted,’’ she says.

“I think helping women and their partners during difficult times, providing that emotional support and reassurance, trying to provide them with the most positive experience and outcome, it’s quite an amazing feeling.’’ 

“I thought it (midwifery) would be an absolute privilege to be a part of such a life-altering moment in someone’s life, so I instantly knew that was something incredibly special and rewarding. I definitely couldn’t wait to start.’’

In Australia we are fortunate to have world-class maternity services and comparatively few complications. 

Sadly, the situation in many other less developed countries is a far different story. Worldwide approximately 810 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

In addition, WHO says, around 6,700 newborns die every day, amounting to 47% of all deaths for children under the age of five. Moreover, about two million babies are stillborn every year, with over 40% occurring during labour. 

Fortunately, the majority of stillbirths and maternal and newborn deaths are avoidable through the provision of safe and quality care by skilled health professionals working in supportive environments. The World Health Organization says this can only be achieved through the engagement of all stakeholders and the adoption of comprehensive health systems and community-based approaches.

Alarmingly, the world is facing a shortage of 900,000 midwives, according to the State of the World’s Midwifery (SoWMy) report, released this year. The report says the global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue by overshadowing the health needs of women and newborns and disrupting midwifery services, including midwives being deployed to other health services.

Millions of lives of women and newborns are lost, and millions more experience ill health or injury because the needs of pregnant women and skills of midwives are not recognised or prioritised, the report argues.

Fully investing in midwives by 2035 would help avert about two-thirds of maternal, newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives per year.

Key takeaways from the report include the role of gender inequality driving the massive shortage, and the continued under-resourcing of the midwifery workforce being a symptom of health systems not prioritising the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls, and not recognising the role of midwives.

Investment is urgently needed in education and training; management, regulation and work environment; leadership and governance, and service delivery. For midwives to achieve their full potential, bold investments by governments, policymakers, educational institutions, and professional associations are required at country, regional and global levels.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the report provides the data and evidence to support WHO’s longstanding call to strengthen the midwifery workforce, which will deliver improved health outcomes, gender equality and inclusive economic growth.

World Patient Safety Day was established by the World Health Assembly in 2019 to enhance global understanding of patient safety, increase public engagement in the safety of health care and promote global actions to enhance patient safety and reduce patient harm.

The World Health Organization says the objectives of World Patient Safety Day 2021 are:

  1. Raise global awareness on the issues of maternal and newborn safety, particularly during childbirth.
  2. Engage multiple stakeholders and adopt effective and innovative strategies to improve maternal and newborn safety.
  3. Call for urgent and sustainable actions by all stakeholders to scale up efforts, reach the unreached and ensure safe maternal and
        newborn care, particularly during childbirth.
  4. Advocate the adoption of best practices at the point of care to prevent avoidable risks and harm to all women and newborns during

WHO is calling upon governments, non-governmental organisations, professional organisations, civil society, patient organisations, academia and research institutes to join the global campaign by lighting up iconic monuments in orange.