Deakin University
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The return of the traditional birth attendant

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-12-01, 00:00 authored by Karen Lane, Jayne GarrodJayne Garrod
The World Health Organization has noted much progress towards the realisation of Millennium Development Goals related to maternal and child health. Eighty percent of women in many developing economies now receive at least one visit during pregnancy by a skilled birth attendant (although only 52% had the recommended four visits), and 68% of women across developing regions receive skilled health attendant care (up from 56% in 1990). However, disparities follow regional and urban-rural gaps. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia lag behind other regions in the provision of antenatal care and skilled attendance at birth (although typically attended by a family member or villager) and over 32 million of the 40 million births not attended by skilled health personnel in 2012 occurred in rural areas. Overall, one-quarter of women in developing nations still birth alone or with a relative to assist them. While increased numbers of medically-trained midwives and health workers or midwife assistants would increase coverage by up to 40%, these are longer-term solutions. In the short term, gross disparities in services in some resource-poor areas have been alleviated by recruiting Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) re-trained in emergency obstetric skills to deal with emergency situations and to refer women onto health facilities when necessary. Samoa and Bangladesh are examples. For many women for a range of reasons TBAs are preferable to hospital care. It therefore makes sense to recognise their place within maternity care, to offer basic and ongoing training and to set up registration procedures thus better ensuring the monitoring of outcomes. Incorporating TBAs into the formal healthcare system would meet both physiological and relational components of birth. In terms of the latter, TBAs would act as cultural brokers between Western and traditional cosmologies and provide women with continuity of care from a known carer; in the West a demonstrably simple but effective intervention promoting physiological safety and reducing the need for higher level medical interventions.



Journal of global health







Article number



1 - 5


Edinburgh University Global Health Society


Edinburgh, U.K.





Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2016, The Authors