In many nations, two different medical/health systems exist: the modern system, consisting of scientific medicine, doctors, nurses, clinics, and hospitals; and the traditional system, consisting of herbalists, mystics, massage, herbal cures and midwives. The latter is less visible and is often overlooked by planning officials. But in many developing nations, the traditional system, especially midwives, has higher credibility and is more fully utilized for many health purposes, than the modern system.
Traditional midwives are found in almost every village and in many urban neighbourhoods in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In these areas, they deliver the majority of births. An estimated two-thirds of all babies born in the world today are delivered by traditional midwives.
Acceptable to the population, accessible in sufficient numbers where they are needed, capable of absorbing training, cost-effective, midwives or traditional birth attendants afford the surest means by which the health of mothers and babies can be improved in many areas of developing countries. Yet all too often their position with respect to the law remains anomalous.