If the theme of this year's International Day of the Midwife is anything to go by, Nepal needs to invest much more on midwives, widely believed to play a vital role in reducing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity and improving sexual and reproductive health.

The theme of IDM this year, which falls on May 5, is "Follow the Data, Invest in Midwives".

Midwives deserve greater investment in their capabilities and workplaces that empower them and fully acknowledge their skills and contributions," UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, said in a statement issued on the occasion of IDM 2021.

There is a total of 14 licensed midwives in Nepal so far and the country will have more in the coming years, but the government is yet to come up with a recruitment and deployment policy for midwives."Nepal is in need of such policy. Midwives must be introduced into the government's health system at the earliest," said President of Midwifery Society of Nepal Laxmi Tamang.

According to the UNFPA, well-trained midwives could help avert roughly two-thirds of all maternal and newborn deaths."Decision-makers should take this issue seriously if we are to reduce maternal mortality," said Tamang.

Formal midwifery education started in the country for the first time in 2016. So far, the National Academy for Medical Sciences under Bir Hospital, the Kathmandu University and Karnali Institute of Health Sciences are running Bachelor's level Midwifery Education Course.

"Midwives save the lives of women and babies and promote the health and well-being of entire communities," said Dr Kanem. "Midwives not just deliver babies, they also provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and play a critical role in promoting health within their communities".

The first batch of midwives Nepal has produced are also responding to the current COVID-19 pandemic. "They are providing quality care to mothers and newborns during the pandemic," said Tamang.

In a country like Nepal where the maternal mortality rate is 239 of 100,000 live births, it is widely believed that professional midwives are urgently needed. "This is why the country introduced the professional midwifery course in accordance with the international standard. Imparting education is not only an achievement. The real success is when midwives are well recognised by the state and deployed to rural areas," noted Tamang.

The latest edition of the State of the World's Midwifery report launched today by UNF- PA, WHO and the International Confederation of Midwives affirms that if we increase the number of midwives and the quality of care they provide, we would save an estimated 4.3 million lives a year globally by 2035. It further says that universal coverage of midwife-delivered interventions by 2035 would avert 67 per cent of maternal deaths.

"Such achievements depend on midwives gaining better education and training, along with comprehensive and supportive workplace regulation.

They must have a greater role in professional leadership and governance, and scope to use their unique experience to drive advancements in health policies and service delivery," said the UN- FPA chief. "Health systems need to take action because investing in empowered midwives is one of the surest ways to safeguard life and protect the health of all."

A version of this article appears in the print on May 5, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.