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Burma’s Health Ministry has admitted that the country needs significantly more midwives.
Senior health officials recently said that a mere 10,000 midwives are employed to cover 60,000 villages.
In Rangoon’s Bago division there are 3,000 people living in San San Lwin’s village and the midwife has to travel to all the other villages in the area.
“I am not very well, and one nurse should be nearby. I need a professional midwife so that my baby can be born properly,” said San San Lwin, a schoolteacher with a daughter aged seven.
Local resident Nyunt Ye doesn’t have formal midwife training but often assists births around the village. Without a proper midwife to provide care, a mother can suffer complications during delivery.
“The nurse was delayed. The mother couldn’t bear it any longer and asked me to help her deliver the baby. I helped give birth to her daughter. Unfortunately the baby was already dead,” Nyunt Ye said.
For most mothers, giving birth in a hospital is not an option as they are too expensive.
Thandar Oo had to borrow US $200 when she gave birth to her daughter. After selling many of her possessions she has still only paid back US $30.
“Even though I sold all of my things, I still had to borrow US $70. Now I have paid back only US $30,” she said.
The government spends just 4 percent of its budget on the health sector and healthcare activist Dr Moe Myint says this needs to increase.
Dr Moe Myint runs a training programme in collaboration with the health ministry, which aims to increase the number of midwives across the country. The programme aims to provide one midwife per 4,000 expectant mothers, and he says the number of auxiliary midwives needs to double.
“There are only 20,000 stand-by midwives now. Some 40,000 are needed to complete the programme,” Dr Moe Myint said.
Until the government takes serious action to address the state of the healthcare sector, expectant mothers will continue to be put at risk from complications during birth.