9 February 2012

Tanzania: NGOs Hailed Over Motherhood Bill

Dodoma — DOCTORS and nurses have hailed civil society organizations that drafted the Motherhood Bill, saying it will help improve maternal and reproductive health services.

Speaking at a stakeholders meeting on Zero Draft Bill to Enact the Safe Motherhood Law (2012) here on Wednesday, they said that the current legal regime is void of powers to hold authorities responsible over poor health services.

The draft prepared by the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association in collaboration with Care International and White Ribbon Alliance, aims at addressing critical challenges facing mothers, newborn and teenagers among others in accessing reproductive health services. "There are several issues that will be solved with the Safe Motherhood Act in place, we will be assured of all necessary equipment for safe delivery and thus we will be able to reduce maternal and child mortality," said the Regional Nursing Officer, Ms Anatolia Mkondo.

Ms Mkondo noted that the draft had come at a right moment when the country needs to stem the increasing number of maternal and child mortality. Statistics have it that Maternal Mortality in the country has reached 454 in every 100,000 live births and newborn deaths have reached 26 in every 1000 live births.

According to her, availability of equipments necessary for delivery and postnatal care services remains a critical challenge especially in the public health centres and hospitals. On his part, the Regional Medical Officer (RMO), Dr Godfery Mtey noted that the bill was vital but called on the brains behind the draft to take caution not to contradict the existing laws.

"There are laws which are already in place that address some of the issues related to safe motherhood such as the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act, 2007 from where you can borrow a leaf," he advised the presenters. The RMO was of the view that the issue of seeking consent from the couples before making any medical decision related to reproductive health should be emphasized in the draft.

However, some doctors, nurses and members from Civil Society Organizations present opposed the view saying that mothers should have been given freedom to make decision as they are the ones who enter labour rooms. "Women should be given freedom to choose whether they want to have more kids or not, this is important especially for those who have given birth to so many children," said the White Ribbon Alliance Country Coordinator, Ms Rose Mlay.

Presenting the summary of the draft, the Care International Project Officer, Mr Kanuth Dimoso noted that the bill intended to protect the rights of mothers and adolescents in accessing reproductive health services. The move stems from another stakeholders' meeting held in June, last year and attended by the Parliamentarians for Safe Motherhood Group (PSMG) which underscored the need to formulate a law that would protect pregnant women from maternal mortality and infant mortality.

According to Mr Dimoso, the bill has various parts which address issues of access to contraceptives and family planning, maternal and new born health as well as sexual and reproductive health of adolescents. Others include, termination of pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, harmful practices affecting sexual and reproductive health as well as implementing and enforcement mechanisms.

Earlier while presenting the safe motherhood bill concept and rationale, the Care International Advocacy for Improved Maternal Health (AIM) Manager, Mr David Lyamuya noted that the move had been necessitated by gaps found in various laws. He noted that some of the already existing laws have had gaps related to Maternal Sexual and Reproductive Health (MSRH).

He named some laws that needs to be merged with some improvements as including, the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 which encourages early marriages by allowing girls to get married at the age of 14 or l5. Others include the Education Act of 1978 which it does not include protection measures for girls who get pregnant while in school and the Prisoners Act of 1967 which is silent with regard to MSRH of the female prisoners among others.

At the last June's meeting which called for the formulation of the Bill, the legislator for Peramiho who is also the chairperson of the Bunge group for safe motherhood, Ms Jenista Mhagama said that coming up with a specific law on safe motherhood was vital to protect mothers and their babies from preventable loss of lives.

"It is a bad experience looking at how we lose hundreds of women during birth every year, when it has been repeatedly stated that no woman should die while giving life. We really need to ha ve this law in place," she said. The collection of views from various stakeholders by CSOs on the matter is ongoing and will cover various regions.

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