Celebrating midwives as they continue to protect mothers and newborns in the times of COVID-19

  • Every day Tanzanian midwives play a vital role in delivering quality sexual and reproductive health services, maternal health services that are key to reducing maternal deaths and making childbirth safer.

On 5 May every year, the world celebrates International Day of the Midwife, but today is a little different from other years for two reasons. Last year the World Health Organization designated 2020 to be the Year of the Nurse-Midwife chosen to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale launching a year-long effort to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives around the world; highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. Secondly, this year midwives will not gather and celebrate together due to the mobility restrictions imposed by COVID-19, which first arrived in Tanzania in mid-March 2020. Instead, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) and the Tanzania Midwives Association (TAMA) and partners will be commemorating the day online and will talk about the challenges the profession is facing in the times of COVID-19 and the relevance of this year’s theme in Tanzania – Midwives Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and New-born Deaths amidst the outbreak.

Every day Tanzanian midwives play a vital role in delivering quality sexual and reproductive health services – maternal health services that are key to reducing maternal deaths and making childbirth safer, and providing the information and contraceptive counselling that women and young people need to make healthy and informed decisions. They are central to advancing gender equality efforts and progress towards global goals and UNFPA’s transformative results to reduce maternal and new-born deaths and the unmet need for family planning. They are often the first and only point of contact at health facilities in communities and are the unsung heroes of Tanzania’s health system as the defenders of women and girls rights.

Midwives are showing extraordinary resilience and courage in Tanzania to continue to provide life-saving services and protect mothers and new-borns. But experiences from other countries suggest that health systems are becoming increasingly strained by the COVID-19 outbreak, which is impacting on the delivery of routine services such as maternal and child health care, while fear of exposure to COVID-19 means that some pregnant women are reluctant to attend routine appointments. In addition, the closure of borders, and a pandemic that has now spread around the globe, has resulted in challenges in ensuring sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers such as midwives.

UNFPA and TAMA acknowledge and appreciate that midwives are working in very challenging times in Tanzania. UNFPA is procuring PPE kits and essential supplies for COVID-19 infection, prevention and control for frontline workers, including midwives, at targeted regional, district and health centre level facilities in Simiyu, Kigoma and Dodoma Regions and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Training and resources for health workers in targeted facilities are also scheduled as part of UNFPA’s support to the Government for coordinated national response efforts. UNFPA is also recruiting nurse-midwives and clinical officers for a surge deployment to ensure that life-saving sexual and reproductive health services continue uninterrupted. And recognizing that this is a stressful time for frontline workers like midwives, UNFPA is working to set up dedicated counselling services for caregivers both online and within the national toll-free helpline in both the Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar.

TAMA is supporting midwives by providing specific information about how to care for women during pregnancy, labour, delivery, and following birth, and newborn care in the context of COVID-19, as well as information on the support midwives and pregnant women, need during this crisis. Communication materials are also being developed to respond to questions that are being asked by communities about COVID-19 and pregnancy, breastfeeding and newborn care. UNFPA will also support TAMA to procure and distribute PPE kits and essential supplies for maternity and newborn care service provision in Dar Es Salaam ­– the region that is currently the most impacted by the pandemic. These activities will be scaled up as funds become available.

Speaking at the online commemoration for the International Day of the Midwife, Dr. Wilfred Ochan, UNFPA Deputy Representative in Tanzania, said: “Pregnancy and birth will continue during the COVID-19 outbreak and unlike other health care, access to antenatal, delivery and postnatal care services cannot be postponed. We, at UNFPA, say thank you to all Tanzania’s midwives and celebrate you today, and we are committed to supporting you to provide these services safely.”

Feddy Mwanga, President, TAMA, also participating, acknowledged that midwives are working in very challenging circumstances in the context of a disease that has not been covered in any midwifery curriculum and said: “The Tanzania Midwives Association (TAMA) sincerely thanks all midwives for the great work that they do and are doing to save the lives of women and newborns and children during pregnancy, labour and delivery and following birth, every day and during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

While the circumstances are different this year, the International Day of the Midwife 2020 provides us all with the opportunity to celebrate and thank midwives in Tanzania, for the fantastic work they do and continue to do amid the COVID-19 outbreak – to protect mothers and newborns and defend and uphold women and girls rights.

Media Contacts
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Population Fund