#ICMLive: Women Leading Today for a Healthier Tomorrow – Monday Plenary

Zack LangwayBlog, Midwifery

Midwives are pillars of health and stability in their communities. Whether providing care for pregnant women or counseling and support after birth for mom and baby, these health heroes make all the difference in the world.

Midwives, many of them women, are not only local leaders, but are part of an important tradition of women’s leadership in health and wellness. It’s fitting, then, that in Monday’s morning plenary here at the ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, women leaders from across global health and wellness were in the spotlight.

Beginning the morning, Jane Philpott, the Minister for Health of Canada, remarked on her experience as a family doctor, delivering children in high-resource settings in Canada as well as low-resource, rural settings in Niger, where “one in seven women would expect to die in childbirth.” Remarking on the everyday leadership midwives carry forward, Minister Philpott also noted that it’s essential for midwifery, as primary care professionals, be integrated into primary care teams. “You are the essence of what it means to be a primary care professional, and you deliver outstanding results,” she noted. Yet in Canada – as in around the world – Minister Philpott noted that we do not have enough midwives, and we need to train and develop more midwives to support health moms and families.

Dr. Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director of UNFPA, told the story of Nisa, a woman in an isolated community who lacks access to prenatal care. But with a midwife – a “trusted leader in communities” – that mother will receive care centered around her needs. Dr. Kanem noted several midwifery leadership principles, including that midwives are always “ready, willing, and able” when it comes to providing the best care for mom and baby. It’s this approach that engenders trust between midwives and mothers, and positions midwives as essential leaders in shaping good health in communities. Midwives are the cornerstone of wellbeing across the world’s villages, towns, and cities, Dr. Kanem continued, and we need more of them in practice to leave no person behind by 2030 – because for the health of our future, “a midwife leads the way.”

Opening a panel on women’s leadership as agents of change for health, moderator Ann Starrs, President & CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, noted that investing in RMNCAH reduces the risk of maternal and newborn death, “saving the lives of millions of mothers and newborns who would otherwise die.” Expanding on the essential role of midwives in bridging the health resources gap, Julia Bunting, President of the Population Council, noted that “when countries invest in midwives, they are investing in women, and they are investing in the future of those countries.” Petra ten Hoope-Bender, a technical adviser to UNFPA, noted that midwives are uniquely able to tailor the things women need to their circumstances, raising the capacity and capability of women-centered care at a community level. And emphasizing the importance of both training and engagement, Her Excellency Toyin Saraki, ICM Global Goodwill Ambassador and Founder of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, reiterated that we must provide every tool possible – from education to advocacy to training and diagnostic devices – so that midwife leaders can help ensure “every woman can give birth in a safe and clean condition.”

What will tomorrow bring for women’s health around the world? We at Seed hope for a world where every woman has essential care from a skilled health worker in every stage of life. We hope for a world where midwives are plentiful and confident so that every mother is well-supported during pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood. We hope that our leaders continue to recognize that teaching and training midwives is an important investment in the health and wellness of community and planet.

This is our hope and this is what we work towards every day. And with inspiring women leading progress in global health – including these powerful women as well as midwifery leaders in countries all around the world – there is reason to believe that this hope will become our shared reality.

Photo credit: Population Council / @PopCouncil