The Citizen (Dar es Salaam)

13 June 2011

Tanzania: Traditional Birth Attendants Need Proper Training

Kisarawe — Birth attendant training programmes have been playing a vital role in reducing stillbirth and prenatal mortality rates among infants in Tanzania.

Ms Maya Hamisi, 60, of Masaki Village in Kisarawe District is one of the popular traditional birth attendants. She says she enjoys working as a traditional midwife because the work helps her to save lives of expecting mothers in her remote village.

"I am proud of being a midwife. I feel it is a great honour to me because my job is a call that needs a person who is kind and tolerant ," she says proudly.

Organised by Women's Dignity (WD) organisation, a team of journalists visited the village to learn how traditional midwives have been helping in saving lives of mothers and children in areas where hospitals and maternal health services are scarce.

Ms Hamisi is a popular figure in the village for having what villagers termed as 'a good hand in helping pregnant mothers to safe delivery'. This is because she has not experienced any serious complications or infant death since she started her job three decades ago.

"Traditional midwifery is not a job that one can rely on for good payment as some people think, rather, it is a role that calls for great respect in the society," she notes.

Ms Hamisi says that she began attending to pregnant women in 1980, after training from her late grandmother, Magati Mwinshehe.

Ms Mwinshehe, according to Ms Hamisi, was a popular traditional midwife who served expecting mothers in Sungwi, Kisanga, Gumba and Masaki villages during her lifetime.

She says her grandmother began to involve her in the profession by using her as an assistant during delivery, but she was not allowed to be near the delivery bed then.

She served as an assistant for several years until she was married. She says her grandmother assisted her in delivery without any problem.

"After my second child, my grandmother told me that I was now qualified for the midwifery job after a long assessment, and from that day I could handle an expecting woman," she recalls.

"I received my grandmother's remarks with shock because I felt I was not ready for the delicate job. But later I accepted it because I respected my her dedication to the job," she recalls.

Soon after the statement, Ms Hamisi says an expecting mother came from a neighbouring village.

"My grandmother asked me to do the job, giving me all important instructions on how to do it perfectly," she says.

She says that in short this was the beginning of her name and fame as a traditional midwife, a vocation she has done for a long time without any serious problems.

In 2005, she was invited to attend a seminar in Kisarawe which offered them modern e methods of serving expecting mothers.

She says that the training helped them to understand a number of things, including how to protect the infant from HIV infection during delivery and how to protect a midwife from infectious diseases when doing her job.

Apart from HIV, she also learned other important matters in the profession such as understanding the health of expecting mothers during delivery and the health of the infant in general, danger signs and getting the history of a mother to understand whether it is her first pregnancy or she has had caesarean delivery before.

"The training, though it was my last time, remains historical since it gave me a good knowledge on safe delivery and made me understand the dangers a midwife may face when assisting a mother who delivers at home," she says.

Ms Hamisi points out that the role of a traditional midwife is to follow up the records of the expecting mothers in their locations, and reminding them to attend clinics to enable them to prepare necessary requirements for safe delivery.

Speaking on th e challenges that a traditional midwife faces, Ms Hamisi mentions lack of cooperation and ignorant as being the most common. She says there are expecting mothers and their husbands who refuse to report to the midwives or health centres and at the end they are forced to deliver at home which she says is very dangerous.

"Some women refuse to attend clinics when they are pregnant or come to us so that we could know help them deliver safely, they now come to us and force us to help them to deliver. We normally don't accept this," she states.

Family planning

She says the present generation seems to ignore it, has been well practiced in most villages prior to the hospital era.

Emphasisng , she says she has been in the forefront to encourage her daughter-in-law to use family planning methods to have the ability to properly care their children so as to enable them to get better education and health services.

Ms Hamisi says she is proud of the respect she has been getting due to her commitment to save lives as a traditional midwife.

"I have not been getting any income from my job, it is only respect and probably a special food prepared for the mothers who help to deliver.

The name of the food is 'Ugali wa Kisingizi' which is given for spending a night helping a mother to deliver.

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