White Ribbon Alliance


The 10th White Ribbon Day in Tanzania: Be accountable so that maternal deaths are no more

May 6, 2015
By Rose Mlay, WRA Tanzania Coordinator

More than 24 women and 144 newborns die each day in Tanzania due to labor complications and lack of quality care. As a woman, a mother, and a midwife, I know lifesaving services have to be accessible to all women. We can prevent many of these deaths with adequate investment in Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (CEmONC). In 2008, the Government of Tanzania committed to ensuring that 50% of health centers provide CEmONC by 2015. However, by 2013 the government had failed to follow through on this commitment and had made insufficient progress in improving maternal and newborn health.

In 2013, our team assessed 10 health centers in the Rukwa region of the country. We found that none of them were providing comprehensive lifesaving services. To address this, we started a campaign called, “Be Accountable so that Mothers and Newborns can Survive Childbirth.” Through this campaign, we aimed to inform citizens and provide a platform where their experiences and voices could be heard by policymakers. We also worked to support policymakers to respond and act on the citizens’ demands. In January 2015, following our campaign, a new assessment found that 5 out of the 10 health centers in the region started providing CEmONC and have saved more than 60 lives.

This year, we decided to celebrate our successes, and to draw even more attention and commitment to ending maternal deaths during White Ribbon Day – a national celebration that we first organized with the Second President of the United Republic of Tanzania back in 2006. On this day, Tanzanians commemorate all women who lost their lives during pregnancy, labor, delivery and in the critical days after. We also remember these women with hope, and use this day as a platform to hold discussions between citizens and regional leaders to raise awareness and hold government officials accountable on their commitments. Many high government officials and Members of the Parliament have attended our event this year. One of them, Mr. Abdalla Mtutura, shared his concern that maternal deaths in Tanzania are not properly investigated and reported on. He spoke from personal experience after losing his wife due to lack of safe blood transfusion services in a health facility.

In advance of White Ribbon Day, I met with Christy Turlington, a global activist, to speak about solutions to ending preventable maternal mortality. I was pleased to hear that her organization donated a portable solar power system to Oldonyosambo Health Centre in Arusha. Later that week, I met with members of the Bilateral Mission of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association to Tanzania and Mauritus and learned about their efforts to end maternal mortality. At a meeting with another activist, who rode a motorbike alone from the UK to South Africa to draw media attention to maternal health in Tanzania, I learned of her new project to help maintain the motorbikes that are used to help midwives get to mothers and newborns in hard-to-reach areas.

I am writing about these individuals and their efforts to show how much people from all corners of the world are concerned about the wellbeing of women in Tanzania. Our leaders must also continue to keep maternal health high on their agendas, and to persuade each other to take action and invest more in women’s and newborns’ lives. The impact of our campaign in Rukwa is visible and we’ve shown it is possible to reduce the deaths of mothers and newborns. If civil society and political leaders work together, maternal and newborn mortality can be made history.