Tanzania adopts mobile-based initiative to ease maternal mortality

A multimedia campaign dubbed ‘Wazazi Nipendeni’ – Swahili for ‘Parents Love Me’ – has been launched in Tanzania to encourage expectant women and their spouses to participate in programs targeted at ensuring healthy pregnancy and safe delivery.

The SMS-based campaign incorporates all safe motherhood health programs including “early and complete ANC attendance, malaria prevention, the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), individual birth planning and safe delivery.”

The campaign uses unique SMS components. Expectant women and mothers with babies up to 16 weeks old can subscribe to the service by sending the word “mtoto” (Swahili for child) to the short code 15001 at no cost.

Upon registration, registrants are sent free messages covering a range of safe pregnancy and early childcare aspects. Other offerings include time-sensitive reminders for antenatal care (ANC) visits, SP (sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine) doses for prevention of malaria and information on HIV testing, nutrition and birth planning.

Even as maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) has improved in Tanzania in the last decade, maternal mortality ratio remains high at 454 deaths per 100,000 live births, translating to about 23 Tanzanian women dying daily from birth-related complications, or almost one every hour.

The infant mortality rate, at 51 deaths per 1,000 live births, is also one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa where 117,000 newborns die each year.

The government of Tanzania has started several intervention programs to improve MNCH, including the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa in Tanzania (CARMMAT) that recognises the significance of social and behavior change through communication initiatives.

The SMS-based Wazazi Nipendeni campaign, for example, is an initiative of the CARMMAT.

Majority of the country’s population of almost 45 million people live in rural areas, mostly far from full-fledged health facilities, leading to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

In October this year, Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete at a joint news conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who heads Bloomberg Philanthropies, said his government needed more money “to fight maternal mortality and reach Millennium Development Goal targets by 2015.”

Bloomberg’s charitable organization along with the H&B Agerup Foundation shortly later announced a US$8 million donation for a maternal health project in Tanzania.

A number of international organisations have since showed interest in helping the country cut maternal mortality. Wazazi Nipendeni, for instance, is an initiative funded by the United States Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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