A Fort Smith woman is active in a campaign to reduce child mortality and assist mothers in the developing world give birth and a safe and healthy environment.
Midwife Gisela Becker recently travelled to Durban, South Africa as the Canadian representative at a conference for the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM).
The ICM’s congress meets every three years and attracts over 3,000 midwives from 100 countries to discuss issues affecting the profession. This year, for the first time, the event is being hosted by a developing country. Becker, who was president of the ICM for three terms,, said that decision was meant to focus attention on reducing maternal and newborn mortality rates in the developing world, particularly in South Africa.
“This was a very important message to other countries that were the very poorest and where maternal child health is in the absolutely worst state,” Becker said. “It was really good to see midwife leaders meeting with people from the World Health Organization and the United Nations discussing these issues and how to actually help women in the world.”
The conference kicked off with 1,000 midwives marching 5 km into Durban as a demonstration to raise awareness about the need to improve maternal-child health globally. Becker, who has been a midwife for over 30 years, said a concern repeatedly expressed at the many panel discussions during the four-day conference was the need to improve community-based midwifery programs for women in poorer countries.
“In many places women do not have access to a health care professional at all,” she said. “They don’t have a registered midwife or a physician so they basically give birth with only family members and if there are complications, they have to travel sometimes days to get to a regional hospital. Those outcomes are not always very good.”
Another issue discussed at the conference was the need to develop more universal standards for what constitutes a midwife. Becker said a broad range of differences was reflected in the views presented by participants from as far away as Argentina and Japan. In some countries, such as Canada, where midwives complete a four-year undergraduate university degree, educational guidelines are extensive, while in others it amounts to a short six-month training course.
“We found many countries don’t have midwife regulations so many women work there, but they are not supported by any strong regulations. So there is also a need to strengthen midwife education with more programs in certain developing countries. We also need to provide them with stronger assistance to support and advocate for midwives.”
Although Becker observed vast differences between the modes of practice among participating countries, she was also impressed at how much midwives have in common.
“The most striking thing is how similar midwives think around the world and the amazing level of motivation to help and work with their clients,” she said.
During Becker’s stay in Durban, conference organizers also provided opportunities for participants to experience local food and Zulu culture. She even spent a half-day on safari in the surrounding countryside where she saw giraffes and rhinos.
Now back in Fort Smith, Becker said she benefited from networking with other midwives from around the world and sharing ideas on how to improve the profession. Learning about the many hardships faced by women in the developing world at the conference, Becker also feels moved to take action and do something to improve the situation.
“I would certainly like to see more Canadian midwives do more volunteer work in supporting other countries,” she said. “I want to find time myself to get involved in more volunteer work and support midwives and mothers globally. There really is a need for midwives to network more together.”
One resolution passed at the Durban meeting was that the 2017 ICM conference would be held in Toronto, Ontario.