columnBy Swaum Mustapher
Dar Es Salaam — A research by United Nations Population Fund UNFPA recently has shown that 529,000 women worldwide are estimated to die every year in childbirth.
Of these, almost half are from Sub-Saharan Africa, with Tanzania having one of the highest maternal death rates. The UNFPA research was revealed at a symposium in Dar es Salaam.
On Wednesday in Dar es Salaam Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) jointly with Harvard School of Public Health organized a one- day symposium on Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health in Tanzania, discussed and showed the current status and future research opportunities so that they can help to reduce maternal deaths.
When officiating the symposium, Ambassador Gertrude Mongella urged the participants to do their best to ensure that maternal deaths and deaths of children are reduced.
"I challenge you all people who attended hear and registered your names by next year in the same meeting. One by one, you should testify on what you have done in making sure that maternal deaths and death of children decrease," she said.
Ambassador Mongella added that she had been struggling for a long time against maternal mortality deaths and deaths of children less than five years age but still the situation is worsening especially in Sub-Saharan countries.
When giving out her experience before the participants, Ambassador Mongella said that if people kept on using funds for making symposium without tackling the issue, deaths of women and children will never end.
"There are is so much money spent in making these symposiums but if you, participants, are not committed to reduce these deaths, they will never end," she said.
She said she was fortunate that she lives in Dar es Salaam which has saved her life when she delivered her babies, because if she had been in her district (Ukerewe) chances of her being alive today would be low.
"In my area women are dying everyday in delivery and in my seven pregnancies I have been able to save four children. I had the experience of miscarriage; please help these women," she said.
Ambassador Mongella challenged electronic and print media practitioners to carry out in-depth reporting on maternal mortality and deaths of under-five children in order to raise awareness among the people.
"The media is least interested in reporting issues concerning the health of women and children, which could have helped the society to understand the main causes of their deaths," she said.
She blamed the media, as the tool for fast information delivery, for what she called their failure to address issues of women and children.
"Most issues which concern women and children are placed on the deep inside pages instead of front ones, a practice that makes people least interested to read the reports," she said.
She finalized her speech by saying: "We owe you the MUHAS, Havard and other people much and ask you to make sure something is done no matter how other people may view it. I hope that the two Universities will find solutions. I think so."
According to Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS), out of every 100,000 live births 578 mothers die needlessly during childbirth.
Several factors contribute to these maternal deaths, but they are caused predominantly by a lack of timely access to essential, quality health care services.
The problem can be due to transport problems, long walking distances to emergency maternal healthcare facilities, financial constraints, particularly poor birth or delivery preparedness at household level, poor quality maternal healthcare services and shortage of trained health personnel at the health facilities.
One of the participants from MUHAS, Dr Rosina Lipyoga said that lack of commitment by the government and medical individual service providers hampers efforts of health in the country.
"Lack of commitment by the government to the budget of health, below 15 per cent to health is not enough to sustain women issues including the maternal death and children death," she said.
"How many of us put priority on the management of women health? How many of us response at once to the call of a mother who is bleeding? And how many of us in his or her part is committed to doing the best in making sure that deaths are reduced rather than discuss how and what can be done to reduce or eliminate them. People are not committed," she added.
She further said that so afew of medical officers use the media in giving knowledge concerning their health.
Professor Wafaie Fawzi from Havard School of Public Health said that no notable reduction has been documented in neonatal mortality rate (NMR) or maternal mortality ratio (MMR).
"There is a need to address maternal, neonatal and child health gaps and prioritize on research needed to fill these gaps," he said.
An overview of maternal neonatal and child health in Tanzania indicates that more than 90 per cent of pregnant women attend antenatal care at least once, with 60 per cent having four or more visits.
And only 47 per cent of all births in the country occur at health facilities and are assisted by the skilled birth attendant.
However, out of the 53 of births which take place at home, 31 per cent are assisted by relatives, 19 per cent by traditional birth attendants and 3 per cent are not assisted.
Maternal mortality is largely attributed to complications from hemorrhage, unsafe abortions, severe anaemia, obstructed labour, pre-eclamsia or eclampsia, and postpartum infection.
Only half of pregnant women are unaware of signs of pregnancy complications. Neonatal mortality remains high and largely due to prematurely, low birth weight, infections and asphyxia.
These Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health conditions can be addressed and will require a concerted effort of scientists and public health professionals, policy makers and leaders.
Some progresses has been made in Tanzania to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) four, with significant decline reported for mortality among children less than five years of age.