Measuring adequacy of the midwifery workforce using standards of competency and scope of work: Exploring the density and distribution of midwives in three low- and middle-income countries using cross-sectional and geospatial data

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: A global midwifery shortage hampers the goal of ending preventable maternal/newborn mortality and stillbirths. Whether current measures of midwifery workforce adequacy are valid is unknown. We compare two measures of density and distribution of midwifery professionals to assess their consistency, and explore how incorporating midwifery scope, competency, and the adjusting reference population impacts this critical metric. Methods and Findings: We collected a census of midwives employed in eligible facilities in our study settings, (422 in Ghana; 909 in India), assessed the number practicing within the scope of work for midwifery professionals defined in the International Labor Organization International Standard Classification of Occupations, and whether they reported possessing the ICM essential competencies for basic midwifery practice. We altered the numerator, iteratively narrowing it from a simple count to include data on scope of practice and competency and reported changes in value. We altered the denominator by calculating the number of midwives per 10,000 total population, women of reproductive age, pregnancies, and births and explored variation in the indicator. Across four districts in Ghana, density of midwives decreased from 8.59/10,000 total population when counting midwives from facility staffing rosters to 1.30/10,000 total population when including only fully competent midwives by the ICM standard. In India, no midwives met the standard, thus the midwifery density of 1.37/10,000 total population from staffing rosters reduced to 0.00 considering competency. Changing the denominator to births vastly altered subnational measures, ranging from ~1700% change in Tolon to ~8700% in Thiruvallur. Conclusion: Our study shows that varying underlying parameters significantly affects the value of the estimate. Factoring in competency greatly impacts the effective coverage of midwifery professionals. Disproportionate differences were noted when need was estimated based on total population versus births. Future research should compare various estimates of midwifery density to health system process and outcome measures.