Tanzania must do more to reduce maternal deaths

Monday August 31 2015


By Syriacus Buguzi

Readers tend to pay little attention to newspaper stories on development. And even when they do, it is only when the story is made juicy. At this point, when almost everyone in Tanzania seems to be mesmerised by the political drama ahead of the October election, we are likely to witness that kind of thing.

But the stories must be told anyway—especially on key development aspects where the country has performed dismally. This will help highlight problems that must be fixed as the world inches closer to the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It’s also an opportune moment for Tanzanians to voice their concerns as they prepare to elect a new government.

Tanzania’s performance

Take the story of Tanzania’s performance on controlling maternal deaths. Statistics tell us that the country has made ‘’insufficient progress’’ on MDG5, which addresses reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent before the end of 2015. This is indicated in the 2015-MDGs Countdown Report.

Any contender worthy of the name in this year’s election should be keen to assure the electorate that he or she is a man/woman of the people. Committing themselves to cutting down maternal deaths would be a sure strategy to garner more votes.

During the launch of CCM campaigns on August 23, I heard a number of women cheer Dr John Pombe Magufuli’s running mate Samia Suluhu, more so when she said she would champion the campaign to halt maternal deaths.

One would assume that the cheers were just like any other chorus that characterised the large audience at the rally in Jangwani Grounds on the weekend. But a closer analysis might prove something different.

Families that have suffered the agony of losing a relative or two in the process of childbirth would most likely be touched by such a campaign strategy. This is reflected in current reports that indicate that about 8,000 pregnant women in Tanzania die of pregnancy-related complications each year.

Statistics from the World Lung Foundation, an NGO that has led a campaign against maternal mortality in Tanzania, indicate that the 8,000 mark has not changed in the past three years.

Tanzania ranks 27th in the world for being an unsafe place for mothers to give birth, with a maternal morality ratio of 410 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

It is a story even sadder in Sierra Leone, which has the highest maternal deaths in the world, standing at 1100 per 100000 live births. But that does not mean Tanzania should not pull up its socks.

As world leaders brace themselves for the launch of a landmark transition into Sustainable Development Goals next month, this data on maternal mortality in Tanzania are probably reminding us of unfinished business.

In trying to get itself out of the quagmire, Tanzania is now championing the move to mobilise other countries to invest much more in improving maternal health.

Together with three other African countries, Tanzania took the front-runner role in the $12billion Global Financing Facility (GFF) launched recently in Addis Ababa, as the major investment pledge for maternal and child health.

This comes at a time when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are engaging government leaders worldwide to look into ways and means of unlocking the resources needed to achieve the SDGs.

Pumping more money into development for health is now seen as the surest investment strategy in helping end maternal and child deaths globally in the next 15 years.

Tanzania’s Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr Seif Rashid, is fully behind the GFF, and says the new financing facility will help developing countries mobilise domestic resources for health. Part of the GFF money has already been aligned to the five-year investment plans for the health of women, children and adolescents in the other front runner countries—Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The other countries that are also set to benefit from the funding are Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

Political commitment

But raising more funds without the political commitment to translate the money into real health services in hospitals will not push the agenda that much further. This is something leaders should now be focusing on during political campaigns and at global development platforms. Getting to the crux of the problem should be a priority.

Syriacus Buguzi is a health writer with The Citizen. sbuguzi@tz.nationmedia.com