Dar es Salaam — In Tanzania, 454 of every 10,000 live births results in maternal mortality, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). While the figure has improved over the last decade, it is still far from the goal of 193.
The debate over poor maternal health in the country has re-surfaced following last month's Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, where more than 900 health experts from 70 countries gathered to address access to quality maternal health care services.
"We are training our nurses, we have increased antenatal awareness and I can assure you that we are committed to reducing maternal mortality," said Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare Seif Suleiman Rashid. "The current rate is unacceptable."
After the Arusha meeting, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare intensified maternal health campaigns, promoting maternal health issues on television and radio stations across the country, Rashid said.
The campaign asks expecting mothers to make sure their deliveries are performed in hospitals. In Tanzania, only half of all deliveries take place at health facilities, according to UNICEF.
He also said the campaign calls on mothers to make sure they receive services for free. "They should not pay a single cent," Rashid told Sabahi.
He said the government has allocated nearly 65 billion shillings ($40 million) to improve maternal health in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Part of the money will be used to buy delivery kits for expecting mothers and to continue improvements at maternity hospitals, such as adding operating rooms for emergency cases.
Rashid said the biggest challenge the ministry faces has been Tanzanians' attitudes toward health services. Most expecting mothers are under the impression that public hospitals in the country offer poor services, he said.
Developing new strategies
Peter Bujali, director of Human Development Trust, which monitors maternal health, said the government needs to develop comprehensive strategies to decrease maternal mortality, such as establishing new training for health workers and antenatal care programmes to sensitise new fathers.
Theopista Masenge, a paediatrician at Mbeya Referral Hospital, said inadequate maternal health education, inconvenient hospital locations and poor road infrastructure contribute to maternal mortality in Tanzania.
"We have no problem with facilities at our hospitals at all," Masenge told Sabahi. "Our problem is poor maternal health education and the geographical location [of facilities]. Pregnant women are dying on the way to hospital because of impassable roads and lack of ambulances."
She said that while Tanzanians need to change their attitudes towards healthcare and use hospitals instead of traditional midwives who cannot handle emergency situations, the government must address the scarcity of adequate health facilities in some areas.
Dafrosa Deogratias, 36, who delivered her fourth child at Amana Hospital in Dar es Salaam in December, commended improved services at government-owned hospitals.
"Previously, we had to bring everything from home," she told Sabahi. "We had to have our own gloves, scalpels and even money to pay for the service, but now I can see positive improvements."
"Even nurses are more professional than before. They used to be very abusive, but this time they were encouraging," she said, adding she was not asked to pay for anything.
Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare Seif Suleiman Rashid said the government plans to extend the healthcare budget increase until 2015 to continue improving services at medical facilities and significantly decrease maternal mortality rates.