TANZANIA: Home deliveries contribute to mother, child deaths

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More than half Zanzibar’s mothers deliver their children at home without access to medical help at health facilities, an official said.

"Fewer than 50 percent of the pregnant women in Zanzibar give birth in health facilities; the rest give birth at home with assistance from traditional birth attendants," said Hanuni Waziri, manager of the maternal and child health programme in the Zanzibar Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

Maternal mortality was estimated at 377 per 100,000 live births, Waziri said at the launch of a roadmap to accelerate the reduction of maternal, newborn, and child deaths in Stone Town on 25 February.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), about half a million women die every year in childbirth worldwide. In Tanzania, approximately 8,000 women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth and 57 percent deliver at home.

While the country had achieved a 30 percent reduction in child mortality and a 20 percent decrease in newborn deaths in the past five years, infant mortality remained high at nearly 10 deaths per 1,000 live births. Close to one-quarter of all births are unplanned and 40 percent of women remain in dire need of reproductive health services.

Maternal mortality in Zanzibar, Waziri said, was mainly a result of severe bleeding during and after delivery and eclampsia, exacerbated by inadequate skilled attendants, a negative attitude among staff and lack of facilities in primary healthcare units.

UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obeid, who was on five-day visit to Tanzania, said maternal and child deaths had remained a big problem in the past 20 years despite global efforts.

"We need political will and availability of funds to reduce deaths," Obeid said at the launch of the eight-year programme. UNFPA, she added, was committed to supporting the programme in the islands.

"A country is judged on how it treats its women and children," she said. "Medical doctors and experience show that access to family planning, skilled care, and emergency care has a great impact on reducing maternal deaths."

Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume said the semi-autonomous island of one million people planned to reduce maternal and child deaths by 2015. “We have recorded dramatic success in combating malaria; through unity and determination we will also reduce maternal and child deaths.”

Waziri said the focus of the programme would be to increase skilled personnel and advocate for family planning.