Tanzania Brings Maternal Care to Rural Women’s Doorsteps

Mother and child
Monica Elias and her daughter Angel benefited from USAID’s MAISHA program in rural Tanzania.
Charlotte Cerf, USAID
Health workers deliver lifesaving services to expectant mothers
“She [Mziwanda] was like my mother. Had it not been for her, I am sure I was going to be in big trouble. Anything could have happened to me or my child.”

June 2014—Over 8,500 women die each year in Tanzania from pregnancy-related complications such as severe hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and complications from unsafe abortions. Almost all of these ailments are preventable and present little danger if pregnant women get access to skilled health care providers. Early identification of symptoms is critical to successful treatment and the avoidance of fatal consequences.

The Mothers and Infants, Safe, Healthy and Alive (MAISHA) program, supported by USAID, is working to increase access and demand for maternal, newborn and child health services in Tanzania. MAISHA, in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania, has provided pre- and postnatal care to over 25,000 women in rural communities over the past six years.

Monica Elias, 23, was several months pregnant when she was “discovered” one evening in January 2013 by Selestina Mziwanda, a community health worker trained by the MAISHA program. Mziwanda was returning from visiting one of the 137 families she serves in the hamlet of Kilimanjaro when she met Elias in one of the many other small communities in the region.

“Monica had been hiding, and that is why I hadn’t seen her before,” said Mziwanda. “When I saw her, I suspected she might be pregnant.”

The encounter was indeed fortuitous as Elias had been experiencing bad headaches, dizziness and, increasingly, fatigue. She also looked frail and pale when Mziwanda visited her.

Using the training and job aids she acquired through MAISHA, Mziwanda counseled Elias on danger signs and symptoms of pregnancy-related complications, birth preparedness and the importance of attending an antenatal care clinic. Mziwanda suspected Elias was anemic, and referred her to a nearby health center where she received iron supplements.

“That was the first time I [attended] a clinic since I became pregnant. Although I wasn’t showing much, I was told my pregnancy was actually seven months old and that my baby was growing well,” said Elias.

While at the health facility, Elias received other antenatal checks and immunizations including counseling and testing for HIV. Two months later, she delivered Angel, a healthy baby girl, at the health facility.

“She [Mziwanda] was like my mother. Had it not been for her, I am sure I was going to be in big trouble. Anything could have happened to me or my child,” said Elias. “We should have more community health workers [like Mziwanda] in all the villages. They are helping us very much.”

Five months later, Elias and Angel came to Morogoro to witness Mziwanda and 256 fellow community health workers receive a donation of bicycles from USAID—bicycles that will help them visit more families, save more lives and create more happy beginnings.

The MAISHA program, which runs from 2008 to mid-2014, is implemented by a consortium led by Jhpeigo. Members include the Futures Group, Save the Children, IMA World Health and T-MARC, a Tanzanian social marketing organization.

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