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“A midwife ensures a pleasant birth and a happy mother and baby. I loved supporting women when they were most in need”.  When Laila Masharfa began to specialize in midwifery many years ago, she fell in love with the profession.

Laila is a senior midwife and lecturer in midwifery from Deir Al Balah in the Gaza-Strip. She is a nurse by background and a specialist in midwifery. She completed a Master's degree in Health Management and completed her Ph.D. in Newborn Primary Healthcare. Today, Laila is the head of nursing and midwifery at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, and a midwifery lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza, the Palestine College of Nursing (PCN), and Al Quds University. 

As a midwife, you learn to become a stronger woman who can make life-saving decisions. Midwifery provides you the opportunity to grow on a personal and professional level. Says Laila Masharfa. 

Even though the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) in Palestine has been reducing during the past 20 years, this trend has begun to reverse since 2017. The ratio in Palestine has increased from 5.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 to 16.7 deaths in 2018 and 19.5 deaths in 2019. More effort is needed to control and further reduce this number. This is where midwives can play a major role. There are currently 1,024 midwives in Palestine, however, there is a need for at least 3,000 more in order to reach international standards. 

UNFPA set a global strategic goal to achieve three zeros by 2030; (i) zero preventable maternal deaths, (ii) zero unmet need for family planning, and (iii) zero gender-based violence and harmful practices. Skilled midwives play a critical role in increasing access to family planning and contributing towards reducing preventable maternal deaths. UNFPA supports midwifery education programs at two Ministry of Health colleges: The PCN in Gaza, and Ibn Sina College for Health Sciences in Nablus in the West Bank. UNFPA partners with various local actors to develop and support local standards of obstetric care in Palestine. 

Naila Masri, the Head of the Projects Department at PCN, recalls when the project first started with UNFPA in 2012: “The initial goal of the project was to increase the number of students enrolled in the Midwifery Higher Diploma and Bachelors’ programs. We advertised the program through brochures, radio advertisements, and targeting schools. Within 10 days of enrolment applications, we reached our goal of 30 enrolled students. After that, we did not require a big marketing campaign because students were reaching out to us instead.”     

“UNFPA made a huge difference in the quality of the program,” said Naila. “They provided the college with computers, printers, and a skills lab. More importantly, they supported the development of the midwifery curriculum and supported unifying it across Gaza and the West Bank”. 

Training for midwives on “Advanced life support in obstetrics” in Gaza City. 2019 © UNFPA

The project has supported many trainings for midwifery and nursing students, graduates and practitioners, in order to improve the skills and scope of work of midwifery in Palestine. Laila, as an experienced nurse and midwife, led many of these training programs in colleges, universities, and hospitals. The latest training was on infection, prevention, and control throughout delivery during COVID-19. 

Laila adds “UNFPA has a leading national role in improving workplace policies based on those of the International Confederation of Midwives. We now have a clear job description that is unified across the country”. 

Laila is hopeful that the support for midwives continues and that the local and international communities invest more in midwifery. “It is a great and honorable profession. A midwife is a woman who manages a baby’s delivery from the moment a woman enters the hospital until she leaves, without any complications. By supporting a healthy family, a midwife contributes to building a healthier and stronger community.”