More Midwives Necessary, Hun Sen Says

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday called for the recruitment, training and deployment of more midwives nationwide in an effort to reduce the maternal mortality rate and improve the overall health of mothers and their infants.

The prime minister’s request comes on the heels of a UN report that found Cambodia has made no progress since 2000 in lowering its maternal mortality rate, which is 472 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The UN report said Cambodia is seeing five women die per day, the same pace as almost nine years ago.

Lowering the mortality rate, which measures the number of female deaths during pregnancy, labor or shortly after birth, was one of nine Millennium Development Goals the country signed on to in 2000. Cambodia is way off target to meet its 2015 commitment of reducing the maternal mortality rate by three quarters.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s annual conference, Hun Sen said Cambodia has made great strides in health care but needs to improve on its level of treatment and services given to expecting or new mothers. He said monetary incentives are required to encourage more midwives—trained professionals who assist women during pregnancy and delivery—to work, especially in rural and remote areas.

“Health issues remain a major challenge for all of us,” Hun Sen said in a speech. “I think we still have a long way to go to improve.”

Michael O’Leary, country director for the World Health Organization, said increasing the number of midwives has been a “high priority” for the Ministry of Health and for organizations that cooperate with it. He said the number has been stagnant and is in danger of dropping, but that the premier’s speech could help spur action against the problem.

“When the [maternal mortality] rate did not change in 2000 or 2005 this was an alert to everyone that this would need some focused attention,” O’Leary said Monday by telephone.

However, he cautioned, adding more midwives was not a panacea for reducing maternal mortality. Better access to treatment, newer equipment, proper nutrition and more training is needed, he said.

According to an earlier speech by Health Minister Mam Bunheng, a trained health worker attended 58 percent of all births in Cambodia in 2008. That’s an increase of 22 percentage points since 2006, but still short of the nation’s target of 60 percent in 2008.

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