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Maternal Health Summit in Tanzania

Note: World Lung Foundation united with The Union North America. From January 2016, the combined organization is known as “Vital Strategies.”

(Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania) – World Lung Foundation convened its first-ever Maternal Health Summit in Tanzania to bring together international experts, government officials, donors and medical experts to identify best practices in emergency obstetric care and to discuss its model for reducing maternal mortality rates in Tanzania. The summit began with technical field meetings in Kigoma on January 17, followed by a two-day session involving policy makers and project leaders concluding on January 21 in Dar Es Salaam.

Tanzania’s infant and maternal mortality ratios are unacceptably high. According to latest estimates, 67 deaths occur before age one for every 1,000 live birth, with an additional 450 deaths from pregnancy-related causes occurring per 100,000 live births.(1) In isolated rural regions, the cause is often a lack of obstetrical care, including emergency surgery for obstructed labor.

Since 2006, WLF with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies has been working closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and with Tanzanian partners like the Ifakara Health Institute, to implement a state-of-the-art maternal health program in Tanzania. The program has trained personnel, renovated health centers and constructed operating theaters, maternity wards, laboratories and staff housing in the rural regions of Kigoma, Morogoro and Pwani. The project is now expanding to a fourth region: Singida.


To date, nine health care centers and five district hospitals have been upgraded. This includes building three new maternity wards and operating theatres that are fully equipped with surgical equipment, reliable supplies of electricity and clean water. To enable skilled staff to live close to these facilities in remote village areas, 26 staff houses have also been built. Additionally, more than 30 nurses, midwives and Assistant Medical Officers (AMOs) have been trained in emergency obstetric care.


Several leaders of this initiative will be present, including Dr. Deo M. Mtasiwa, Chief Medical Officer, MOHSW; Dr. Kelly Henning, Director of Global Health, Bloomberg Philanthropies; and Dr. Staffan Bergstrom, Director of Maternal Health, World Lung Foundation. Topics for discussion include assessing maternal and neonatal survival; enhancing the supply of blood, surgical material and anesthesia drugs to health centers; and determining areas of mutual accountability.


Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deo Mtaswia said, “Training non-doctors – Assistant Medical Officers – to do emergency obstetric care, and equipping local health centers to carry out complicated deliveries, is a proven model for saving lives in rural regions of Tanzania. Being able to deliver babies safely and conveniently with trained assistance, especially when mothers are undergoing complicated pregnancies, can be the difference between life and death. We are pleased to have this collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies and World Lung Foundation and hope we can scale up this program with even more partners in the future.”

Dr. Staffan Bergstrom, WLF’s Project Director, said, “Training Assistant Medical Officers (AMOs) in basic obstetrical surgery, such as c-section deliveries, has increased the number of babies born safely and averted needless maternal deaths. The initiative’s comprehensive approach to infrastructure, tools, and training at the village level means women do not have to risk their lives by travelling long distances with uncertain transportation to hospitals. We believe we’ve found a model that works and we are very pleased that the Government of Tanzania and our Bloomberg Philanthropy partners have enabled us to implement and scale a solution that could potentially save lives in many rural areas around the world.”

Dr. Kelly Henning, Director of Global Health, Bloomberg Philanthropies, said, “We’ve seen good progress over the last several years; we believe this summit will be an important step to understanding what has worked and how this model can be improved to maximize its life-saving potential.”


Three critical delays are at the root of maternal ill health and death globally: delays in seeking care; delays in transportation; and delays in receiving the adequate medical attention when a patient arrives at a health facility. Additionally, a shortage of doctors and trained medical professionals in Africa poses a significant challenge. This crisis in basic care has motivated donors like World Lund Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to collaborate with the government to seek solutions.

(1) Hogan et al, The Lancet, 2010, 375(9726):1609-1623.