Written by Abbey Kocan, Executive Director of Kupona Foundation, and Erwin Telemans, CEO of CCBRT
This International Women’s Day, individuals and organizations across the globe are shining a light on the issue of women’s equality, and celebrating the accomplishments of extraordinary women.
As CEO of CCBRT, a leading provider of quality healthcare in Tanzania, and Executive Director of Kupona Foundation, CCBRT’s US-based sister organization, we are inspired every day by the women we serve in Tanzania. We also have a unique perspective on an inequality facing thousands of women in Tanzania: limited access to high quality maternal healthcare.
It speaks volumes that the majority of expectant mothers with the financial resources to do so will leave Tanzania to deliver their babies in South Africa, Kenya, or Europe. Why do they lack confidence in Tanzanian hospitals? Comprehensive emergency obstetric care is available in only 5% of Tanzania’s public hospitals. Expectant mothers know that if there is a complication during labor, both they and their baby might not survive. They also know that if their baby develops a birth defect during labor, attending medical teams may not be trained to identify and treat the impairment.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, hospitals are overcrowded, under-resourced, and staff are overwhelmed. The healthcare system in Dar es Salaam was designed to support a population of 750,000 people; the population has now reached 4.4 million people. Despite their best efforts to deliver high quality care to their patients, medical teams in Dar es Salaam have long been without the resources to do so.
Improving care for all women
For us, this work is very personal. We are a father of three and mother of one. When it was time for our children to be born, our only wish was that they arrive safely. We are now seeing that same wish come true for thousands of new mothers in Tanzania as they welcome healthy babies in safe, well-resourced facilities.
We are equipping medical teams to provide high quality care for mothers and babies as we build capacity in Dar es Salaam’s hospitals. Working with 22 health facilities, we train health workers in life saving emergency care, provide equipment, and strengthen existing infrastructure. With the support and partnership of the Government of Tanzania, who are also committed to addressing maternal and newborn mortality, we are making great strides. By filling the gaps, we ensure that fewer births result in complications, disabilities, and maternal deaths, and every woman has access to the care she needs.
Treating disabilities at birth
Last week, we celebrated World Birth Defects Day. March of Dimes reports that each year, almost 8 million babies are born with birth defects, starting their lives at a disadvantage. Statistically, birth defects increase in severity and frequency in low-income countries like Tanzania.
CCBRT specializes in treating and preventing disabilities and birth defects in its 200-bed hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Every year, we treat thousands of patients living with clubfoot, cleft lip, cerebral palsy and congenital cataracts. Most of these disabilities developed, and could have been prevented, at birth.
In response, we train healthcare workers to recognize preventable defects at birth and raise awareness in the community via text message, radio and TV advertisements, educating parents on the availability and importance of early treatment for their children.
Today, CCBRT and Kupona join the global voice celebrating the extraordinary women in our lives. Our wish, as professionals and as parents, is that by supporting mothers with the care they need and deserve, we will raise the bar to provide safe, high quality care, accessible to all expectant mothers in Tanzania.