7 January 2019

Tanzania: Major Medical Milestones, Pitfalls That Painted the Year 2018

Tanzania became the first country in Africa to achieve a well-functioning regulatory system for medical products--that was in 2018--a year that saw the country make giant leaps in health sector development, albeit clouded with pitfalls that arose from the government's new decisions.

The year 2018 ended on a high note though, as--on December 10--the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA) had made significant improvement in insuring medicine used in the country's health sector is safe, good quality and is produced in a clean environment.

Fewer than 30 per cent of the world's medicines regulatory authorities are considered to have the capacity to perform the functions required to ensure medicines, vaccines and other health products actually work and do not harm patients, WHO said.

WHO facilitated and conducted self-assessment of and formal evolution of the TFDA and Zanzibar Food and Drug Authority to make some adjustment, so TFDA met all indicators that meet maturity level 3, of the WHO's scale and target for regulatory system globally.

Not an easy ride for health sector

The WHO achievement added to a list of key developments that highlighted the successes of Tanzania's health sector last year however, it wasn't short of gaps and dilemmas.

On September 10, family planning programs--some of the country's key health sector key projects--largely funded by donors--were in tight spot following a surprise stance expressed by President John Magufuli on family planning.

On his tour of the Lake Zone last year, President Magufuli chided those who embraced family planning, terming them "lazy." His remarks sparked debate on whether family planning programmes in the country would continue or not.

Speaking in the presence of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Tanzania Jacqueline Mahon and health minister Ummy Mwalimu, the president said those who use contraception do not want to work hard and trying to avoid the responsibility of feeding their children.

There was no indication that President Magufuli's opposition to birth control would lead to change in policy, however, since he made remarks, little has been popularised about family planning in the country, evidence being on how the 2018 World Contraception Day passed without a major highlight in Tanzania; as it had been the routine before.

Tanzania successfully separates the conjoined twins

Nonetheless, on September 22, 2018, the country's major referral hospital--the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH)--made history in following a successful separation of conjoined twins, a surgical procedure that was done locally through collaboration between foreign and local surgeons. A similar achievement had been recorded, 24 years ago.

The twins--from Kisarawe District, coast region, were separated by a team of 10 medical specialists from Tanzania and one from Ireland. Dr Petronilla Ngiloi, one of the surgeons on the team, said the successfully operation was a milestone in the medical operation in Tanzania.

Dr Ngiloi said the operation was successful due to the availability of modern medical investigation facilities such as magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and computerised Tomography (CT) scan and ultra sound machine which enabled them to examine appropriately the internal organs of the twins.

Tanzania's technology hits headlines

In mid last year, Tanzanians made headlines for deploying their IT innovation--a surveillance mechanism for epidemic diseases--which was introduced by experts from SokoineUniversity of Agriculture(SUA) and used in Ebola-hit regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Tanzania IT scientists Mr Eric Beda and his colleague Renfrid Ngolongolo and Calvin Sindato an Epidemiologist travelled to Congo to train Trainers on how to use digital tools "Afya data" for Ebola control and research.

The digital App, Afya data was developed by researchers SUA in collaboration with IT expert to improve efficiency in surveillance of diseases and it is available to download on Google play store.

The digital app funded by US based organisation, Ending Pandemics, works by enabling people trained as community health workers who collect details on signs and symptoms on suspected disease in communities enter the information through app and send it to a server where it is stored, synthesised and analysed by experts.

Cochlear implants

MNH experts carried out cochlea implant surgery on 21 children in the year 2018. For the first time, the experts did it alone, without the assistance of foreign experts, signaling that the country was now picking up in terms of boosting the capacity of its experts.

Cochlear implant is a surgically implanted hearing electronic device that provide a sense of sound to a person who is partially or completely deaf. Not many were able to access and afford the treatment in the previous years, until MNH started carrying out the interventions.

At a cost of Sh 80-100million per surgery, per child, Tanzania stands out to be a country that may have carried out the cochlea implant surgeries at lower cost.

In Kenya, details show the services is offered in private hospitals at $31,000 per child which is equivalent to Sh70 million. In Tanzania only Sh777 million has been used for 21 children which is equal to Sh37 million per child.

Kidney transplant

The year 2018 was when the first Tanzanian underwent kidney transplant surgery at a local hospital, Prisca Mwingira, marked one year after undergoing the procedure.

The national hospital has already recorded successful kidney transplant on 19 patients since then. Ms Mwingira underwent the surgery in 2017 and she opened up to Your Health last year on what could have led to her kidney failure.

She confided on how, as a teenager, she consumed a lot of pain killers but what she didn't know was, the painkiller were gradually affecting her kidney until the symptoms appeared and she decided to consult a doctor.

Not a rosy year for MUHAS in 2018

The Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) lost its Mloganzila dream. Like most top-notch medical schools in the world, Muhas was now set for another big development--running its own teaching hospital. But, that dream vanished into thin air.

This follows the news that the university's Academic Medical Centre, Mloganzila (MAMC) had been placed under the control and management of Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), contrary to an earlier plan where, Muhas was going to lead the project.

On the hospital's side (at MNH) authorities said they would come up with a detailed plan on how to run the new state-of-the art facility, built at Sh206 billion cost, largely a soft loan from South Korea.

"... It seems there were some challenges which affected the provision of services at the facility [Mloganzila], but since our national hospital [MNH] is experienced in the field, it will provide the anticipated quality services," said MNH's Head of Public Communication and Customer Care Unit, Mr Aminiel Algaesha.

hajijamillah@gmail.com

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