A report presented during a midwives' conference in Durban paints a gloomy picture about the state of midwifery in 58 developing countries.
Up to 3.6 million mother and baby deaths could be avoided each year in these countries if midwifery services were upgraded.
The report was compiled by the United Nations Population Fund and Partners (UNFPA) and presented during the Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives in Durban.
The study surveyed 58 developing countries and found 38 of them were in dire need of more midwives.
The 38 countries will not meet their Millennium Development Goal 5 targets without 112,000 more midwives, the reports states.
Bold steps for midwives
In the report's foreword, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urges countries to take bold steps to improve midwifery.
"Ensuring that every woman and her new-born have access to quality midwifery services demands that we take bold steps to build on what we have achieved so far across communities, countries, regions and the world," he said.
According to the report 358,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth and two million new-borns die within the first 24 hours of life each year.
The world also records 2.6 million stillbirths each year because of poor health care.
UNFPA executive director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin said: "The report points to an urgent need to train more health workers with midwifery skills and ensure equitable access to their life-saving services in communities to improve the health of women and children."
Delivering the opening address, International Confederation of Midwives president Bridget Lynch accused nurse managers in South Africa of placing staff who are trouble makers in labour wards as a form of punishment.
Dorothy Matebeni, nursing service manager at the East London Hospital Complex, said Lynch's statement was misleading.
"As nurse managers in the country we allocate nurses to maternity based on qualifications, experience, competency and passion."
She said she had spoken to other nursing managers attending the conference who also raised their concerns.
"We don't know where she got the information from. Her statement is far from the truth. What makes us unhappy is that she is not even a South African. She is talking about something that she does not know."
(Sapa, June 2011)