Rose Aciro is one of the many thousands of midwives around the world that we are honoring today on International Day of the Midwife. Like her colleagues, Rose Aciro works hard every day to save lives. With limited resources and unrelenting determination, she helps to reduce maternal and infant mortality at Lira Hospital in Uganda.
Rose Aciro is an exemplary role model who has been nominated by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the International Confederation of Midwives, the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda and the Swedish Association of Midwives, in collaboration with the national midwifery associations, for the Midwives4all award Uganda, part of the global awareness campaign with the same name, launched by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to increase the number of midwives in the world.
Because although maternal and infant mortality rates have dropped by half since 1990, about 800 women still die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. Of these, 99 percent are women and girls in developing countries. Nearly 3 million newborns die each year and 2.6 million babies are still-born. These figures spark frustration and anger. The gap between the rich and the poor is scandalous. Most deaths could be prevented with the help of qualified midwives and doctors. Although the solution is relatively simple, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health have proved to be the most difficult MGDs to achieve. This is a clear sign that women's and girls' health and rights remain a low priority.
The Lancet Series on Midwifery points out that two thirds of mothers and newborns who die could be saved if a well-trained midwife were present. Let's just look back in time. In 1751, the Collegium Medicum reported to the Swedish Parliament that most of the women who had died in childbirth could have been saved if they had had adequate access to a midwife. At that time, the maternal mortality rate in Sweden was higher than in almost any country in the world today. One century later, the rate had decreased dramatically thanks to the presence of midwives who worked alongside doctors and other health professionals to provide the best possible care.
Today, Swedish midwives travel around the world to share their knowledge and expertise. In Bangladesh, they have helped build a new midwifery profession from scratch with Swedish development aid and in close cooperation with the local authorities. Women's sexual and reproductive health and rights are a priority for the Government, and Sweden has long been one of the largest donors to the United Nations Population Fund, which works to improve maternal health.
Old traditions and ignorance are also barriers preventing women from accessing reproductive health services when, for example, mothers-in-law expect their daughters-in-law not to seek professional help and demand they give birth at home because that's what they did. Access to care is, of course, also hampered when women's freedom of movement is severely restricted due to unequal gender norms. Knowledge is the key to pulling down these barriers.
Swedish development assistance makes a difference. But we need more actors to get on board. That's why the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda and a number of Swedish Embassies around the world are hosting events today. Our hope is that Midwives4all.org will take on a life of its own and engage, inspire and stimulate debate about the central role that midwives play in strengthening the health and rights of women and girls. And that individuals, organizations and decision-makers will come together to take on the challenge.
Improved maternal health benefits the whole of society. The facts are on the table and the evidence is there. Midwives not only save lives. They are also actors of social change. Rose Aciro is living proof of this.