Objectives: To describe the role of midwives and maternity care in
three low resource settings and to challenge some policy options introduced to
reduce maternal mortality for women residing in rural and remote areas.
Approach: A series of retrospective analyses were undertaken drawing on work the authors have conducted in rural and remote China, Timor-Leste, and Samoa over the past 5–20 years. Sources include our own empirical research, grey literature, as well as published secondary sources.
Findings: In China, hospital birthing is promoted as a major strategy in reducing maternal mortality. This has greatly increased financial burdens for women and their families. In Samoa, traditional birth attendants (TBAs) are integrated into Samoa's health system alongside midwives and other health professionals, and they play a critical role in providing support for pregnant and birthing women. In Timor-Leste, the government has moved away from training TBAs and has shifted the focus from skilled attendance to facility-based delivery. Evaluation of a national maternity waiting home strategy, designed to improve access to facility-based delivery, did not improve access for women in remote areas.
Conclusions: Low-income countries need to be cautious when adopting global solutions, such as facility-based delivery, to tackle maternal deaths. Women-centered and cost-effective care should be provided locally. Culturally compatible maternity care can be achieved in concert with safety and emergency obstetric care. Midwives can create the bridges between social and professional systems that allow this to happen.