Caption: Berit Mortensen and Palestinian project manager Sahar Hassan.
Child and mother mortality has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, but more than 300,000 women still die every year in connection with childbirth. Most of these deaths could have been avoided.
“A hundred times as many survive, but with very serious and life-threatening health problems,” says midwife and OsloMet researcher Berit Mortensen.
She is head of a research and education project funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), that seeks to advance midwifery in low-income countries.
An important goal of this project is to develop local research capacity and, in turn, improve healthcare for mothers and children in these countries.
This project is a collaboration between the midwifery group at OsloMet and partners in Palestine and Ghana. Key aspects of the project include overall care and improved quality of life for mothers and children.
Ensure that mothers do not get sick
Mortensen stresses the importance of ensuring that mothers do not get sick after they give birth. Because if the mother gets sick, who will look after the newborn?
Research has shown that the chance of survival for newborns is significantly reduced if the mother dies or becomes seriously ill.
OsloMet has expert resources that can help to improve the quality of, and increase respect for, the midwifery profession in low-income countries.
These resources can, in turn, ensure women’s and children’s health. According to the UN report State of The World’s Midwifery 2021, midwives are the most important professional resources to that end.
“High quality midwifery education and research regarding local conditions, are important factors for improving healthcare offered to this vulnerable group,” explains Mortensen.
Improving research and education
The project Midwifery Research and Education Development is part of Norad’s NORHED programme (fact box), which aims to develop and improve the quality of midwifery education and research regarding women’s health in Ghana and Palestine.
More specifically, it will help to establish a master’s programme in women’s health in Palestine and a master’s programme in midwifery in Ghana.
Three PhD projects will be carried out under the project: one Palestinian PhD candidate has been accepted to OsloMet’s PhD Programme in Health Sciences, and two PhD candidates from Ghana will carry out their PhDs in Ghana.
Digital education components will be developed for both midwives and public health nurses.
“We need more and better qualified midwives in both Palestine and Ghana,” states Mortensen.
Better cooperation between physicians and midwives
It is also important to improve cooperation between physicians and midwives, something that can be a challenge in many low-income countries marked by hierarchical barriers.
An important goal of the project is to raise the status of, and respect for, midwifery.
“A lack of qualified midwives is a problem in a number of low-income countries,” Mortensen points out.
Globally, it is still the case that one in three women give birth without a midwife or physician present.
Poor working conditions
Research has shown that many midwives in low-income countries work under poor conditions and experience a lack of respect, the researcher continues.
This can contribute to an inability to provide sufficient treatment to women, in turn leading to many of them avoiding healthcare institutions due to such poor treatment.
“By educating midwives in low-income countries, we can ensure that women who are going to give birth receive respectful and individually adapted treatment.”
“In this project, we are working together to develop and advance midwife education. This can help to improve midwives’ working conditions and increase their autonomy, thus helping them to be seen as a professional group.”
“This is important for women’s and children's health.”
Need for more local research
Mortensen also stresses the need for more research on women's health in low-income countries. Much of today’s research has been carried out in Western countries, which have different challenges.
Through several research projects, Mortensen and her national and international partners will contribute to generating more knowledge on women’s health in Palestine and Ghana.
This research will also be relevant to other low-income countries.
“A healthcare service based on research-based knowledge will improve the health and quality of life of women and children, which is why it’s so important.”
A vital profession
Mortensen has been engaged in international solidarity work for a long time and has worked for long periods as a nurse and midwife in Palestine and Lebanon.
In cooperation with local midwives, she has taken part in developing a midwife service adapted to the rural community on the West Bank. She has seen the huge difference having qualified midwives can make.
This was also the topic of her PhD thesis, which shows a direct link between good midwifery services and healthier children and mothers.
The PhD project has been further developed into an international research and education cooperation; a project that is a step in the direction of reducing global child and mother mortality to a much lower level.
This is also a clear priority in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.
- Surviving birth: Every 11 seconds, a pregnant woman or newborn dies somewhere around the world (unicef.org).
- The State of the World's Midwifery 2021 (unfpa.org).
- Making Midwifery Matter - The introduction of a Midwife-led Continuity Model of care in occupied Palestine (duo.uio.no).