End Fistula, Health, Maternal and Newborn Health
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Why is motherhood in Tanzania about luck?

16-year-old Malela is considered ‘lucky’ to have survived her obstructed labor

Written by Samantha Bossalini, Communications and Development Associate, Kupona Foundation

This past March, I visited our implementing partner, CCBRT, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. One humid afternoon, I sat with a dozen ladies recovering from surgery to repair the trauma of obstetric fistula. I was surprised by a common thread weaving through each heartbreaking account: luck. For these women, aged 16 to 65-years old, surviving childbirth and becoming a mother had been a deadly game of chance.

Lucky because she survived
Malela had just turned sixteen. She was petite, shy, and her voice grew quiet when she spoke about the day she lost her baby – one of the 39,000 babies who die every year in Tanzania1. In the US, a 16-year-old girl would be thinking about friends, boys, passing her driver’s test and studying for college entry exams. Malela was telling me about the day she lost her baby. After two days of contractions she passed out from exhaustion. Her now stillborn child was removed with forceps and taken away. When she woke, she remembers feeling her flat stomach, and asking, “Where is my baby?” Her mother told her “Your baby died. Now we are working on your urine leaking problem.” Malela’s traumatic delivery left her with obstetric fistula, and a stillborn child whom she never met.

The fact I wrestled with most after meeting Malela was that in Tanzania she is considered lucky; ‘lucky,’ simply because she survived her complicated labor when thousands of women each year do not.

Lucky because her baby lived
As another woman came forward to be interviewed, I asked the nurse if this patient had also lost her child. The nurse shook her head.

“No, her baby survived. She is lucky.”

Salma was 30-years old. When she went into labor, doctors discovered that she wasn’t dilating even after hours of contractions. An emergency C-section saved her daughter’s life, but the hours of obstructed labor created a fistula. As I sat with Salma and her healthy, 3-month-old baby girl, I just kept thinking, why is this about luck?

Rolling the dice.
Fact: 8,000 Tanzanian women die each year due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth2. In Dar es Salaam, one of Africa’s fastest growing cities, women in labor face challenges we can’t imagine in the US. Urban hospitals are so crowded, it is common for four women to share one bed. Mothers deliver their children on the floors of unsanitary, humid wards. Clinics without blood banks lose laboring mothers to hemorrhages. Generators fail, staff are overwhelmed, resources deplete, women die.

It’s impossible for me to reconcile that 8,000 women died last year because they were unlucky. So many of these deaths are preventable. We know what it takes to change that number from 8,000 to zero, and luck has nothing to do with it.

Every mother deserves to meet her newborn child
Thanks to the support of our donors, the dedicated team at CCBRT, and their close partnership with the Government of Tanzania, we are taking luck out of the equation. We are decongesting overcrowded wards, training skilled workers in respectful, high-quality maternal healthcare, and building capacity throughout the Dar es Salaam region. As a result, healthy babies are being delivered to healthy moms.

We invite you to honor the mothers in your life, and help us take luck out of the equation for thousands of women every year.

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I have met the women who struggle with the emotional and physical devastation that obstetric fistula leaves in its wake. I’ve heard them share losses, and celebrate the joy of holding their healthy babies – a joy that should be a right, not a privilege. At Kupona, we believe every mother deserves to meet her newborn child. It should not be a game of chance.

As we approach Mother’s Day in the US on May 10th, please take the opportunity to show your support. For every donation made in honor of a mother, her name will be entered into our prize drawing. The winner will receive a gift from the Mabinti Center, winner of ‘Accessories Designer of the Year’ at Swahili Fashion Week 2014! Just type ‘In honor of {insert Mom’s name here}’ in your donation description for her chance to win!

Cover photo: 16-year-old Malela is considered ‘lucky’ to have survived her obstructed labor; c/o Kupona Foundation

[1]  UNICEF (2014). Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed.
[2] Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) 2010, National Bureau of Statistics, Tanzania, April 2011, Dar es Salaam

This entry was posted in: End Fistula, Health, Maternal and Newborn Health

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Kupona Foundation is committed to improving health care in Tanzania. Focused on the prevention of disability, capacity building and health system strengthening in maternal and newborn healthcare, Kupona strives to ensure that donations, materials, and expertise reach the most people, save the most women and babies, and grant the most opportunities. By connecting individuals and institutions in the U.S. directly with their work on the ground at Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), Kupona offers an incredibly rare opportunity to be a part of true change on a system-wide scale.

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