Maternal health in fifty years of Tanzania independence: Challenges and opportunities of reducing maternal mortality
High rate of maternal death is one of the major public health concerns in Tanzania. Most of maternal deaths are caused by factors attributed to pregnancy, childbirth and poor quality of health services. More than 80% of maternal deaths can be prevented if pregnant women access essential maternity care and assured of skilled attendance at childbirth as well as emergency obstetric care. The objective of this review was to analyse maternal mortality situation in Tanzania during the past 50 years and to identify efforts, challenges and opportunities of reducing it. This paper was written through desk review of key policy documents, technical reports, publications and available internet-based literature. From 1961 to 1990 maternal mortality ratio in Tanzania had been on a downward trend from 453 to 200 per 100,000 live births. However, from 1990’s there been an increasing trend to 578 per 100,000 live births. Current statistics indicate that maternal mortality ratio has dropped slightly in 2010 to 454 per 100,000 live births. Despite a high coverage (96%) in pregnant women who attend at least one antenatal clinic, only half of the women (51%) have access to skilled delivery. Coverage of emergence obstetric services is 64.5% and utilization of modern family planning method is 27%. Only about 13% of home deliveries access post natal check-up. Despite a number of efforts maternal mortality is still unacceptably high. Some of the efforts done to reduce maternal mortality in Tanzania included the following initiatives: reproductive and child survival; increased skilled delivery; maternal death audit; coordination and integration of different programs including maternal and child health services, family planning, malaria interventions, expanded program on immunization and adolescent health and nutrition programmes. These initiatives are however challenged by inadequate access to maternal health care services. In order to considerably reduce maternal deaths some of recommended strategies include: (i) strengthening the health system to provide skilled attendance during child birth; (ii) upgrading rural health centres to provide emergency obstetric services; (iii) providing adolescent and male friendly family planning services; (iv) strengthening public–private partnership to ensure continuum of care; (v) supporting operational research to answer the immediate concerns of the health system; and (vi) strengthening community participation and women empowerment to take role of their own health and the family at large. In conclusion, maternal mortality ratio in Tanzania is unacceptably high and still very far from reaching the millennium development goals. Maternal health care services should focus on ensuring there is continuum of care through strengthening the health system; provision of good quality of health care in a well organized referral health system and operation research to support programme implementation.