Midwives from all over the world have been meeting in South Africa this week. A major report into the state of midwifery has found that traditional birth attendants alone will not stop women and babies dying. The three year training course midwives undertake equips them with the skills to help save lives. And training just 119,000 new midwives could save the lives of 3.6 million mothers and babies by 2015.

The UNFPA report says that this relatively low number of new midwives could have a big impact. But their presence in the community has to be supported with medical equipment and access to trained medical teams if there is a real emergency – like when a caesarean section or blood transfusion is needed, according to Petra Ten Hope who’s one of the report’s authors. In Tanzania the rate of maternal mortality has remained persistently high for the last 20 years. Rose Mlay is a midwife there who now co-ordinates the White Ribbon Alliance in Tanzania and she describes what happens during a typical birth in her country.

For hundreds of years people believed that having leeches suck blood from the body would help to keep them healthy. Then as medicine progressed and the evidence for the benefits of leeches was lacking, the practice fell out of favour. But now hospitals in many places including London use leeches to help reinstate blood circulation supplies after plastic surgery. In some parts of the world like the former Soviet State of Georgia, they’re trying out leeches in other rather more unusual and so far unproven ways, as Damien McGuinness reports from the capital Tbilisi.

A comic strip about mental health problems has become a surprise hit. The artist Darryl Cunningham has experienced mental health problems for most of his life, and found it difficult to connect with people. After a spell working on a psychiatric ward, it was graphic art which was to give him an escape route from his anxiety and unhappiness. And the resulting book of cartoons Psychiatric Tales has been something of a cult hit in the UK and is now coming out in some other countries too.

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Sun 26 Jun 2011 23:32 GMT

Zika: a new pandemic?

Zika virus emerggency talks

The explosive spread and impact of the mosquito-borne virus.