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'Nearly 48m women give birth without midwives every year'

Nearly 48 million women (that’s one in three) around the world give birth every year without expert help.

Of them two million deliver their babies completely alone – often with devastating consequences, according to a Save the Children report published today.

The Missing Midwives report found that 1,000 women and 2,000 babies die every day from birth complications which could be easily prevented.

Save the Children, which is launching a campaign for more midwives, estimates that if the global shortage of 350,000 midwives was met, not only would many mums be saved, but more than a million more newborn babies would survive every year instead of dying from easily preventable problems.

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children, said: “While in the UK our thoughts turn to our own mums this weekend, we must not turn our backs on the mums and babies who will die today during birth or from complications associated with it.

“No mother should face giving birth without help. It doesn’t have to be complicated: someone who knows how to dry a baby properly and rub its back to help it breathe can make the difference between life and death. No child is born to die.”

The report shows that the discrepancy between the developed and developing world is at its starkest at the moment of birth.

In the UK, only 1 per cent of women give birth without trained help; but in Ethiopia the figure is 94 per cent. In the UK, where there are 749,000 births a year, there are 26,825 working midwives; while in Rwanda, where 400,000 babies are born a year, there are only 46.

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be born but the number of midwives (although still pitifully low) has tripled within the past three years, thanks in part to midwifery colleges run by aid agencies including Save the Children.

But it warns that unless global political will and funds are pledged to plug the midwives’ gap and improve access to healthcare generally, the Millennium Development Goals to cut child and maternal mortality will not be met and mothers and babies will continue to die in shocking numbers.

Click on the picture for a picture story about midwives in Afghanistan