Child mortality rates falling in Tanzania

Dar es Salaam, November, 2017 - Asha Mchinjita, 37 years old, gave birth to a baby boy at Muhimbili hospital in the country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This is her third pregnancy and this time around matters went well compared to the previous condition when she delivered her first born.

“In those days, things were not good as compared to now. Someone would have fear when it was time to give birth because of poor services that were being offered in public hospitals. At times pregnant mothers would die due to long distances they had to travel to health centres, but now things have improved,” says Asha, who has been discharged from the hospital.

Living in Mwananyamala suburb, Asha claims accessing hospital care is no longer a challenge anymore as health centres are available in almost every corner in the city. According to her, hospitals have improved and government has made interventions which have reduced child mortality. Tanzania is making considerable progress in the reduction of child mortality. Under-five mortality rates continue to drop steadily - from 112 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 81 in 2010. The deaths of infants under one year also decreased from 68 to 51 per 1,000 live births over the same period.

The continuing decline can be attributed to national commitments to increase use of key health services, such as sustained high coverage of routine under-five immunisation, Vitamin A supplementation, the use of insecticide treated bed nets and better drugs to treat malaria. Nonetheless, despite these improvements, more needs to be done, since about 390 children under five die every day from mainly preventable and treatable conditions.

Statistics show that newborn mortality accounts for 40 per cent of all under-five deaths in the country. A neonatologist at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Augustine Massawe, says that neonates are very delicate individuals who need special care immediately after they are born.

According to Dr Massawe the situation at the country’s hospitals in terms of resources has improved compared to the past thus the facilities should now allocate special areas for keeping the babies. “The low birth weight babies survived in the past under meagre resources, but we are now proud that the situation has improved. It is high time that the babies are given their right share,” he says.

Tanzania is close to meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality (MDG 4). However, current efforts need to be sustained and scaled up in some areas in order to maintain and build on the achievements. High population growth places additional strain on service provision at all levels. Pockets of low performance for key interventions also have an impact. For example, fluctuations in routine measles immunisation of children under-five years has led to outbreaks and necessitated emergency measles campaigns. Maternal death rates are closely linked with high fertility rates and low socio-economic status of women, especially the lack of influence that women have over their own health care or over their daily household budget.

About 40 per cent of Tanzanian women do not participate in significant decisions regarding their own health care. On average, every Tanzanian woman gives birth to five or six children and one in three starts bearing children before their 18th birthday.