Midwives play important role in maternal and child health

Prof Jimmy Volmink (Dean, FMHS), Ms Elgoder Bekker (President of the Society of Midwives in South Africa), Prof Anita van der Merwe (Head of the Division of Nursing, FMHS), Dr Nomafrench Mbombo (MEC for Health in the Western Cape), Prof Usuf Chikte (Executive Head of the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, FMHS) and Dr Doreen M’Rithaa (Head of Midwifery and Neonatal Nursing Science, FMHS)
Midwives in the Western Cape celebrated their role in mother and child health care at a function held on 3 May at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FHMS) of Stellenbosch University (SU).  The Division of Nursing organised this function to celebrate the International Day of the Midwife which was marked on 5 May 2016. This year’s theme was “Women and newborns: the heart of midwifery”.
According to Dr Doreen M’Rithaa, head of Midwifery and Neonatal Nursing Science in the Division of Nursing at the FMHS, more than 400 midwives, students and other stakeholders attended the function where topics included midwife wellness, financial wellness, ethics in midwifery and the promotion of women’s health. Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the FMHS, focused on the FMHS’s educational and training offering in nursing over the past 60 years and Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, MEC for Health in the Western Cape, elaborated on the role of midwives in public healthcare of the province.
“Maternal and child health rates in the Western Cape compare far better to other provinces in South Africa,” said Mbombo. The maternal mortality rate in the Western Cape is 76 per 100 000 live births, while the national average is 158.3 per 100 000 live births. “This can be largely attributed to the excellent work by the approximately 700 midwives in the public health care sector in the province.” 
“About 50 percent of births in district and rural areas are administered by midwives, so we should never underestimate the role of the midwife. We need more qualified midwives in remote areas where we still see a lot of morbidities,” Mbombo said.
Volmink explained that excellent education and training programmes are key to equip midwives with the necessary skills to assist women and children.  “I believe the world needs midwives, more than ever. Childbirth unfortunately remains one of the most risky events for mother and child and rather than being a time of joy and celebration, childbirth remains for too many still a time of death and grief.”
He said that midwives can play an important role to help save lives. “We need more of them, and they need better training and more support.”  
SU can make an important contribution in this area by training nurses and midwives at an advanced level.  Volmink stated that SU is playing a leading role nationally in producing advanced midwives and neonatal specialists through its postgraduate diploma and honours degree programmes. The Bachelor of Nursing Honours in Advanced Midwifery and Neonatal Nursing was first introduced in 1998. 
Over the past ten years a total of 366 students have registered for the Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Midwifery and Neonatology. The majority of these students (a total of 336) have already qualified as advanced midwives.
In addition, the Division of Nursing introduced a programme in Basic Midwifery in 2011 to expand the availability of qualified midwives. Successful candidates from this programme register with the South African Nursing Council as midwives. “We are delighted to have seen an exponential growth in this programme over time. So far 146 students have completed the programme successfully with a further 50 students registered in 2016,” Volmink said.
Good clinical practice needs excellent training, but it is also enhanced through research. Students registered for qualifications offered by the Division of Nursing have since 2003 completed 30 master’s degrees where the research questions specifically focussed on midwifery practice and the care of children under the age of five. 
Mandi Barnard