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Fighting Infant Mortality in Tanzania

Posted By Charles Ngowi On February 17, 2009 @ 1:50 am In Child Survival | 7 Comments

Martha sits on the chair facing the window, arms crossed, and gives a great sigh of relief.  She looks at her big tummy and realizes that the days have advanced very quickly. Not many days are left before she visits the clinic.

Martha is six months pregnant. She is expecting that perhaps this time she will hold a baby in her hands, and be able to breast-feed it until weaning age. If this happens, the baby will be her first surviving child. Martha has had two pregnancies at an interval of three years, but neither of the children were delivered safely.

She lost her first child through labor complications because she could not reach the maternal clinic early enough to get medical attention. Her second child died a few days after birth because of lack of proper care and medical treatment.

Martha is so alert and aware at this time to do all she can to have her child survive. She cannot withstand the horrible idea of losing her third child after nine months of painful pregnancy. And she wants to be respected and not mocked in the village and in the family of her husband. She hopes the child inside her will reverse this.

This is what is happening in the lives of mothers and children living in poverty. Many expectant mothers live in constant fear and anxiety of what will happen to them and their children. They risk  losing their children or their own lives, or both, through childbirth complications.

The children face myriad obstacles before they attain the age of 5 years, and their survival is oftentimes a miracle from God.

In October 2008, Tanzania started a new program to reach mothers and infants before they are eligible for the Child Sponsorship Program [3].

The Child Survival Program [4] (CSP) aims at helping children survive the turbulent years in their growth, from birth to 5 years.

The inauguration of the program was graced by Dr. Emmanuel Mbennah, Compassion Tanzania’s Country Director. Dr. Mbennah applauds the mothers who came for the historic day of inauguration. He says this program will help them and their children realize God’s purpose for bringing them to the world.

Several health indicators show that Tanzania’s child mortality rate is still high. According to UNICEF [5], in 2006 the infant mortality rate was 74, meaning out of 1,000 babies born, 74 die before age 1.

Out of 1,000 children born, 118 will die by age 5. This is compared to six per 1,000 who die in the U.S. before 1, and eight children out of 1,000 who die before the age of 5.

According to Compassion Tanzania’s Child Survival Specialist, Rhoda A. Shimba, death rates are high, as many children die of diseases that can be treated and prevented such as diarrhea, malaria and cholera. Health services are also very far from pregnant mothers, and where they are available they do not have enough facilities to help.

Rhoda further explains that out of 100,000 pregnant mothers, 1,000 die due to the causes of pregnancy complications.

Speaking about pregnancy in Tanzania is taboo. People do not very often speak about it or mention it in public. I wanted to know from Rhoda how she managed to get women registered for the Child Survival Program.

“We prepared the mothers psychologically so that they could volunteer to be registered under the program.

“Advanced notice was sent to the community leaders through the implementing churches’ leadership to announce to community members that there is a new initiative that is starting to reach pregnant and breast-feeding mothers.

“This message worked well with the mothers. They had time to ask questions and get more informed. When the time for registration came it was not difficult.”

What also helped the message to be received without difficulty is the knowledge people have about Compassion Tanzania.

Rhoda says the aim of CSP is to reduce the child mortality rate, which according to the medical statistics available means 45,000 children die every year in Tanzania.

Welcoming the mothers into the Child Survival Program, Dr. Mbennah read the Word of God from 1 Samuel 2:8, which says,

“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world.” (NIV)

CSP aims to avert mothers and children from obvious risks so that they can attain the purpose of God for their lives. Dr. Mbennah continues,

“These risks are such as diseases and lack of food and they are caused by such things as weak economic level, poor understanding of the mother how to control her environment, culture and norms of the societies, the pains that mothers go through in their poor livelihood state and the like.”

Dr. Mbennah concluded his speech by praying for the mothers, some of whom had never been in the church setting because they came from an Islamic background.

One of the mothers explained her background and what her expectations are.

Zainabu, 26, has been married twice. She was first forced into marriage in 2001 when she was just 18 years old. Her boyfriend made her pregnant, thwarting the plan of education. She had been selected to join secondary school.

Zainabu’s parents forced the boy to marry her. At that tender age they knew very little about living as husband and wife and the responsibilities associated with it. They had very scarce resources and realized they had differences that could not allow them to live together.

They were not prepared for marriage. But their short-lived marriage left them with two children in the three years they stayed together. After divorce, Zainabu transferred to an urban setting in Arusha town to live with her uncle.

While there she met another man, Salim, who married her in 2005. They had their first child, Said, and while she was pregnant with the second child, her husband died in a accident in a Tanzanian mine in April 2008.

Infant mortality

Now Zainabu is left with no job, no husband to provide for her child, and she is soon expecting her fourth baby. CSP has come as a big relief to her.

“If I had not got this help from Compassion it would be very difficult for me to go to the hospital, and I could not dream of that. CSP has given me hope because I know when I give birth to my child it will have a secure future.”

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[5] According to UNICEF: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/tanzania_statistics.html

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