It is 6 am in Tanzania. Ruka gets up as she does every morning, feeds her chickens and then walks the short distance to the health center. Ruka is the only midwife working at the small health center, which is a few hours' drive from the nearest hospital. Outside, a few pregnant women are seated, patiently waiting to be seen. She attends to the laboring mothers, while continuing to see those who have walked miles for their antenatal checks, family planning counselling or post-natal visits.
Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, Wati has just finished lunch. In addition to being a midwife, she is also trained as a lawyer and spends much of her time advocating for policies that will ensure quality maternal-newborn health care.
And then there is Debrah, who received her midwifery training in New York. She now runs a birthing center in Trinidad with several other midwives. Debrah is also involved with an association of midwives from all over the Caribbean who are working tirelessly to help ensure good outcomes for mothers and their newborns.
Meanwhile, back in Tanzania, Ruka assists a mother to deliver a healthy baby girl. "It is these precious moments, when the baby cries for the first time, that I live for", says Ruka. She continues her work and heads home in the late evening, only to be called back to assist with another birth. This one does not go as smoothly. The power goes off and Ruka is left to work with only the faint beam from a flashlight. The mother starts to bleed heavily after birth, but Ruka knows how to manage the situation. She works frantically but skilfully, and despite the odds, stops the bleeding and saves the mother's life.
Here in the Netherlands, the headquarters of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), midwives attend about half of all births. As the Chief Executive of ICM, I often think of Ruka and what life must be like for the many midwives working with little or no access to the things we take for granted. ICM is constantly working to improve the learning and working environment for midwives. We advocate and lobby for the recognition and respect midwives deserve on a global level with organizations such as the World Health Organisations and the United Nations Population Fund. Furthermore, ICM has developed a set of core documents to harmonize midwifery education globally and set standards for regulation. We also assist midwives to set up their association, an organizational structure that empowers a group of like-minded individuals.
Our efforts strive to emphasize the importance of having dedicated midwives. Three hundred thousand women die each year from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth because they have no access to the skilled care a midwife can provide. Almost two-thirds of these deaths could be prevented if women had access to an educated, regulated and well-equipped midwife. But no matter who or where we are in the world, we all want our mothers and babies to be healthy.
This is why every year on May 5th we call on the world to celebrate the International Day of the Midwife. Every year midwives all over the world take to the streets to raise awareness for the importance of the profession for women around the world. Midwives call on the public and its governments to invest in healthcare in order to improve services, infrastructure, and reproductive health policies. Here, we collaborate with Johnson & Johnson to reach the public about the impact of midwives around the world and encourage policy makers to make the necessary investments. These investments will mean that many more childbearing women will gain access to a midwife's care for themselves and their babies and survive the critical moment of birth and the postnatal period.
But we need your help. On this International Day of the Midwife (IDM) we ask you to support the efforts of midwives. Find your local midwives association and see how you can participate in their IDM event. Send your midwife an e-card or participate in the global Twitter chat from 2pm-8pm CET using #IDM2014 to learn more about how midwives are changing the world, one family at a time.
Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.