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Tanzanian-German programme significantly reduces new-born mortality in Mtwara and Lindi

To mark World Prematurity Day 2017, the Honourable Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC), Dr. Mpoki Ulisubisya, and His Excellency, the German Ambassador, Dr. Detlef Wächter, together with the Regional Medical Officers Dr. Wedson Sichalwe (Mtwara) and Dr. Makenge Gwenchele (Lindi) presented the achievements in new-born care improvement through their joint programme “Improving Maternal and Child Health” (IMCH).

Every year an estimated 15 million babies worldwide are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy). In Tanzania, around 236,000 babies were born preterm in 2015.

The IMCH-programme was launched in 2015 in the regions of Mtwara and Lindi. Under the stewardship of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC) and with technical support from GIZ, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, both regions introduced a comprehensive intervention package to uplift new-born health care in all their health facilities.

As a result, Mtwara and Lindi regions have set new standards in successful new-born care in Tanzania. The programme has proved that the right set of protocols, skill-oriented trainings and mentoring, essential equipment and basic training in maintenance and repair can make a difference. Within 2 years, both regions succeeded to substantially improve new-born care and reduced new-born mortality in hospitals by almost 38%. Furthermore, more preterm babies who survived grow into healthy children without developing long-term disabilities.

A number of low cost-effective interventions were introduced to the regional health system. Among others is the concept of Kangaroo Care, where the skin-to-skin contact between the new-born and the mother keeps the baby warm. Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth significantly improves the babies’ chances to survive due to the early intake of essential nutrients and antibodies. Frequent standardized check-ups of babies by skilled medical staff immediately after birth, 24 hours and 3 days after birth help early detection and treatment of infections and other complications.

In addition to the national standard interventions, the regions introduced medical procedures to new-born care in hospitals with technical support from Tanzanian and German GIZ specialists. This included the use of oxygen for new-borns with breathing difficulties, a protocol to prevent and treat low blood sugar and a phototherapy protocol for babies with jaundice, a very common condition in preterm babies and causing irreversible brain damages if not treated timely.

Today, all 14 regional, district and designated district hospitals in Mtwara and Lindi have a dedicated New-born Care Unit with a total of 286 skilled staff who have been trained and frequently mentored in advanced new-born care. 990 health care workers of the 35 health centers and 160 dispensaries in Mtwara and Lindi were trained in treating new-born emergencies and receive continued support through regular on-the-job mentoring visits done by experienced hospital staff. New standard treatment protocols have been introduced and all health facilities have been furnished with essential medical equipment.

The achievements of Mtwara and Lindi are an important milestone on the way forward to fight newborn mortality in the country. To support this way forward, His Excellency, the German Ambassador, handed over a set of medical training equipment including special training material to the Honourable Permanent Secretary of Health to be used for trainings of medical staff in advanced new-born care in other regions.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany - Tanzania.