February 13, 2023

UNFPA and Maternity Foundation launch new maternal mental health service 

The United Nations Population’s Fund (UNFPA) and Maternity Foundation have just launched a new digital service to improve mental health among pregnant women as well as among mothers and their partners low- and middle-income countries around the world.  

The service consists of a new module published within Maternity Foundation’s widely used digital tool, the Safe Delivery App. To date, the Safe Delivery App and Programme have reached more than 300,000 healthcare workers worldwide.  

The App is a job aid and training tool for midwives and other healthcare workers in low -resource settings. So far, the App has been providing skilled birth attendants with essential guidance on the most common complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Going forward, the app’s contents will be supplemented with other crucial topics, including the new Perinatal Mental Health module.  

“I’m grateful that we together with our key global partners, UNFPA, are including Perinatal Mental Health in our Safe Delivery+ Programme and App. Levering on the large reach of the App and UNFPAs global network, we’ll be able to reach thousands of healthcare workers and empower them in detecting and addressing maternal mental health issues among pregnant women and new mothers and their partners”, says Anna Frellsen, CEO Maternity Foundation.  

10 – 20 % of all mothers experience anxiety and depression 

A multitude of biological, psychological and environmental factors and changes around the time of pregnancy, childhood and early parenthood make many women vulnerable to mental health conditions. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), anxiety and depression in the perinatal period are common, affecting an estimated 1 in 10 women in high-income countries and one in five in low- and middle-income countries.  

Poor mental health is associated with higher risks of complications during pregnancy and births and may lead to negative infant outcomes. For example, if untreated, mental health conditions can lead to low birth weight, premature births, and increased hospital admissions due to illness. Infants may also experience feeding difficulties and a disrupted bonding process with their parents, increasing their likelihood of a disrupted emotional and behavioural development in childhood. 

This briefly underlines the importance of advancing perinatal mental health globally and specifically in low- and middle-income countries.  

“Improving maternal health, including mental health during the perinatal period – is a key priority for UNFPA – all pregnant women and new mothers are vulnerable to perinatal health conditions, however women who experience poverty, gender-based violence, humanitarian emergencies, and social isolation are at higher risk. UNFPA reaches women experiencing perinatal mental health conditions by supporting women-friendly safe spaces and community centres. We also support initiatives to strengthen the capacity of health care providers to deliver high quality care to these women. We are thrilled to partner with Maternity Foundation on this new module and believe that the module will help to ensure health care providers are equipped with the essential guidance needed to provide safe and respectful perinatal mental health care’ says Sarah Bar-Zeev, UNFPA Midwifery Specialist 

The new module on Perinatal Mental Health will be available in the English version of the Safe Delivery App, but there are plans to have it translated to more languages. The App is currently available in around 30 languages.  

Long-term partnership to improve maternal healthcare 

Maternity Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have been working together since 2016 to empower more midwives in providing quality maternal and newborn healthcare by scaling up the Safe Delivery App and Programme.  

Today, the partners are working together in more than 10 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and have plans to expand their collaboration into North Africa, Middle East as well as into Latin America in 2023.  

In addition to the new module on Perinatal Mental Health, Maternity Foundation and UNPFA have plans to keep expanding the clinical content for the Safe Delivery App including a module on Modern Contraception to be released in the spring of 2023.  

Contact for more information  

Katrine Kjærulff, Head of Clinical Development, Maternity Foundation: katrine@maternity.dk  

UNFPA contacts: Sarah Bar-Zeev: bar-zeev@unfpa.org and Geeta Lal: lal@unfpa.org