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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Shortage of midwives, nurses hampers national drive against maternal deaths

3rd April 2012
A nurse attends a newly born baby

``Saving Life of Mothers and Newborns is in your hands: Be accountable.`` This is the slogan of this year’s celebrations for the White Ribbon Alliance with its partners in Tanzania.

The celebrations provide an opportunity to create and renew public awareness about the critical role of midwives in saving women and newborns lives and the need to invest more in the training of midwives.

“The time to act is now, it is up us to invest in women’s health, and we must strive in delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child’s birth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled,” says the World Health Organisation.

Although the current official national figures for maternal deaths have shown some progress in Tanzania, still 454 deaths occur per 100,000 live births, about 8,000 deaths annually.

This progress is not sufficient to meet the target of 265 per 100,000 live births by 2015 set in the country’s Health Sector Strategic Plan Three to reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent.

And even more heartbreaking is the tremendous inequity and injustice that is related to this specific Millennium Development Goal. The largest disparity one can get between developed and developing countries lies in the risk that African women face during child birth.

Only 51 percent and 54 percent of all deliveries are assisted by skilled personnel in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar respectively. While that might appear average, there are very serious shortage of midwives and skilled personnel in most of the rural areas in Tanzania.

Dr. Pirkko Heinonen, Deputy Representative for UNICEF says the shortage of health workers, especially nurses and midwives, is more pronounced in rural and hardship areas where the majority of population

According to the Human Resources for Health Strategic Plan (HRHSP) of 2008-2013, Tanzania’s health facilities require close to 130,000 health workers while the actual available numbers is just over 35,000.

The UNICEF representative also adds that maternal, newborn and child mortality reduction ranks as a high priority for the UN development system.

“The UN has continued to provide technical and financial support to the government of Tanzania in strengthening the health system and supporting evidence based intervention for improving maternal, newborns and child health as stipulated in the National Road Map Strategic Plan to accelerate reduction of maternal and child deaths in Tanzania,” he says.

Dr. Heinonen points out that under collective support to maternal and newborn mortality reduction the UN brings together a mix of expertise and resources in advocacy and policy dialogue, support to health systems development and management and also in primary health care to effectively accelerate efforts towards achieving reproductive, maternal and newborns.

“Some of our specific activities include the provision of essential equipment and supplies of health facilities, improving skills of health workers on providing emergency obstetric and neonatal care, engaging parent and caregivers for effective community based health care, ensuring hygiene and menstruation education foe adolescent girls,” the UNICEF representative explains.

However, Tanzania has made progress in actively recruiting more health workers though there are still challenges with retention especially in rural areas and efforts on increasing the budget of health must be taken as the major issue in the upcoming state budgetary in the way forward on assists the woman who dies in pregnancy or child birth.

First Lady Salma Kikwete urges the government to increase the health sector budget from 11 percent up to 15 percent so as to reduce maternal deaths and attain the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG4).

“According to the research made in 2010, we have improved on reducing the number of maternal deaths from 8,000 in a year to 7,000,” she says.

She says that deaths of newborns of less than one year have decreased from 51,000 to 41,000 per year.

“This figure is purely a direction to decrease the maternal deaths and we have to put more efforts to make sure that the deaths are reduced tremendously,: she explains.

She urges government to enroll more science students in health universities and colleges from the actual number of 5,000 to 10,000.

Regina Mkuli, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare says that the government is continuing to build more health centres in each village throughout the country.

On her part, Rachel Pounds, Save the Children’s director, says that her agency is now conducting a five-year global campaign named ‘Everyone’ with a vision of making every child and mother to realise their rights to access of high quality health care and nutrition without discrimination.

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