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No woman should die giving birth

Giving birth in Simiyu Region is a painful ordeal that many women have to endure. Long distances to health facilities, poor infrastructure including a lack of equipment, and a shortage of qualified staff mean that many women give birth at home assisted by a traditional birth attendant or a relative.  Even if they do make it to a health facility, they often have to wait many hours before they are seen.

Ms. Yulita Elikadi saw a mother who was about to deliver her baby while waiting for a midwife. She helped the mother to deliver her baby boy at Nassa Health Centre in Busega District, Simiyu Region. Six years have passed since then but she has never forgotten that day. It was the first time Yulita had visited the health centre, pregnant with her sixth child, having experienced complications with her previous home-based deliveries. She arrived at the Nassa Health Centre in the morning, joining the queue of other pregnant women waiting to be seen.

The situation suddenly changed as the mother’s labour pains began, and the baby was close to delivery. “She was screaming noisily and painfully. Everyone was running away. I felt sorry for her and tried to help her because there was no one else except me,” said Yulita.

Yulita said: “Previously I had given birth at home with the help of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and my grandmother.”

Yulita  recalled how the TBA and her grandmother had assisted her during birth and helped to deliver the woman’s baby safely. “I pulled the baby out, but I couldn’t manage to cut the umbilical cord. A midwife at the health centre arrived and took over.” Yulita is 42 with nine children. She lost four children during childbirth. “It was too far for me to travel to Magu District Hospital to get maternal health services. My husband also said that he had no money for transport or for the medical expenses.”

At that time, Nassa Health Centre was too far for her to reach. The infrastructure was poor and it was not well equipped. Today this has changed. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) Tanzania and the government have constructed 38 maternity wards and seven operating theatre buildings in Simiyu Region. These facilities have been constructed at various district hospitals and health centres in five districts of Simiyu Region, including Bariadi, Meatu, Busega, Itilima and Maswa.

Nassa Health Centre now has a maternity ward and an operating theatre.  The maternity ward has been equipped with a high-quality ultrasound/sonography machine in the outpatients department as well as a foetal doppler. There is a labour room and an operating theatre for C-sections, and other essential equipment for maternity wards. There is also a neonatal intensive care unit on the ward to improve the survival chances of children born prematurely. Yulita is happy to see her daughters giving birth with a big smile, thanks to the expansion of the health centre.

The construction of the facilities was completed under the 'Nilinde Nikulinde Project', translated as, 'I protect you; and you protect me' and cost $US2,330,770. The aim was to improve health services in the region. As part of the two-year project, supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), medical equipment and vehicles were also provided to the 38 health facilities in the region, costing over $US296,490. Jacqueline Mahon, UNFPA Country Representative, said: "At least $US2,421,050 has been provided to support improved health services in the region and districts, with the aim to reduce the long distances that women have to travel to access quality maternal health services,” she noted.

To recognize the progress made in improving health services under the  'Nilinde Nikulinde Project’ in Simiyu Region, Seleman Jafo, Minister of State in the President's Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments) officially opened the Nassa Health Centre. “I am so thankful to UNFPA that pregnant women in Simiyu will no longer need to travel long distances outside of their region to seek treatment because everything they need is here,” he said.

Meatu District Hospital was also among the beneficiaries of the project. A maternity ward and operating theatre were constructed and medical equipment was provided. The project will enable the hospital to accommodate a higher number of pregnant women and provide emergency surgery to women experiencing complications during birth.

The Medical Officer in charge, Dr Sally Chaku, said: “Before this project, the hospital was only able to accommodate one expectant mother as there was only one labour room. However, thanks to this project the maternity ward now has four labour rooms and a fully equipped surgical theatre.”

"At least 16 pregnant women were coming to give birth here every day. It was so difficult to accommodate them in a single maternity room. Some were delivering while waiting in line to be seen," she said. She is happy that the hospital will be able to see four people at once.