Aberdeen researchers have been awarded almost £400,000 to help tackle a midwifery crisis in a sub-Saharan African country.
Malawi has difficulties recruiting and retaining midwives in rural areas and with varying caseloads it is challenging for them to maintain their clinical skills and confidence.
Increasing the number of midwives employed in rural health facilities and supporting them to maintain their competence will ultimately lead to a decrease in the number of women giving birth without the attendance of a midwife.
Increasing women’s access to high quality maternity care is known to be the most effective way of reducing deaths amongst women and babies.
The Scottish Government has awarded the funding to the University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University and the Ministry of Health in Malawi to build on work that is already ongoing in Malawi to increase the numbers and enhance the skills of midwives in rural areas.
This project will aid efforts by the Government of Malawi to extend its provision of skilled maternity care by improving the retention of midwives in rural areas.
Principal investigator, Jacqueline Bell, is a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen’s Immpact project - an internationally recognised maternal and newborn health research group based at the University of Aberdeen.
Ms Bell, who is working on the project under Immpact’s training and consultancy arm Ipact, said: “Malawi is making progress towards the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal for reducing maternal mortality, but women still have a one in 36 chance of dying from causes linked to pregnancy and childbirth over their lifetimes; that’s about 3,000 women every year.
“Midwives are often the best placed health workers to tackle maternal and infant mortality, but there is an ongoing problem withrecruitment and retention in rural areas.
“This project will build on work that has already been started by the Government of Malawi to bring provision of high quality midwifery care closer to the women and infants who need it. The collaboration involving the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University will support innovation for training midwives, and the retention of midwives in Malawi once they have qualified. We will also gather evidence on the effectiveness of the scheme and the best methods to use in implementation.”
Professor Tracy Humphrey, Clinical Professor of Midwifery at Robert Gordon University, added: “Most of the population of Malawi live in rural communities, but most of the women in these areas give birth without the support of a midwife, because most midwives prefer to work in urban hospitals.
“We look forward to working with the Ministry of Health in Malawi to seek new ways to support midwives working in rural facilities so they are more available to women and are able to provide safe care. By doing this there should be less women and babies dying during childbirth, which tragically is still common in Malawi, but fortunately very rare in Scotland.”
Professor Ruth Taylor, Associate Head of School of Nursery and Midwifery, Robert Gordon University, added: “ The School of Nursing and Midwifery at Robert Gordon University are delighted to be one of the partners awarded this funding to take forward a project that aims to impact on women’s and babies’ lives in Malawi.
“As one of only three pre-registration midwifery providers in Scotland we are certain that the project will have a positive impact, not only in Malawi, but on our Scotland-based students’ understanding of the global issues affecting maternity care.”
The project - funded by the Scottish Government’s Malawi Development Programme – will run for three years.