Calgary-led project aims to keep mothers and babies safe during birth

A woman plays with children at a medical facility in rural Tanzania that now has the ability to perform cesarean sections. Mama na Mtoto / Supplied

A University of Calgary-led initiative is making an impact on the health of mothers and their babies in an area of the world where maternal mortality rates are the highest.

The Mama na Mtoto (which means mother and baby in Swahili) project recently built and opened an operating facility at a rural hospital in northwest Tanzania that will allow doctors to perform caesarean sections.

Previously, mothers experiencing complications during delivery would have to travel up to four hours to reach the nearest facility with C-section capabilities.

“The roads are cut off during the rainy season and it’s just a bumpy road, not a [paved] road,” Dr. Dismas Matovelo, the project’s principal investigator, explained.
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“Before the C-section room was built, a number of women ended up with complications or probably lost their newborns or their life along the way.”

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Tanzania is located in sub-Saharan Africa, a region which accounts for two-thirds of the world’s maternal deaths, according to a 2015 World Health Organization study. The group found there were roughly 8,200 maternal deaths that year in Tanzania, compared to 27 in Canada.

“Most [maternal] deaths occur at the time of delivery,” Dismas, who has practised medicine for more than a decade in Tanzania, said.

“If you are able to bring that facility closer to where the communities are and the communities are able to access and utilize that care that is provided, I am sure the lives of women and newborns will be able to be saved timely.”

The first C-section procedure was completed in the new operating room in late March of this year. Since then 22 have taken place at the facility.

Dr. Jenn Brenner, the director of the initiative and a professor in the U of C Cumming School of Medicine, said the new operating facility “was considered to be a high priority” and the group was “able to mobilize the funds here in Canada to help construct the building.”

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“There’s a great potential for impact not only during the life of the project, but more importantly in the long term,” Brenner said.

“Having a facility such as this in a community that is otherwise quite cut off and difficult to reach also attracts women who are pregnant to seek services at the facility during the pre-natal period and at the time of delivery.”

The Mama na Mtoto project includes Tanzanian, Ugandan and Canadian partners. Brenner said its Canadian funding ends in 2020, however, the U of C will maintain a long term partnership with the local university in the area.

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