By Rose Mlay, WRA Tanzania
The size of the nursing-midwifery school classes in Tanzania is rapidly shrinking, and the shortage of midwives is felt throughout the country. According to the 2010 Tanzania Demographic Health Survey, only half of births in Tanzania are attended by skilled health personnel. For every 100,000 births in Tanzania, almost 800 women die needlessly in child birth. Most of these are avoidable with access to care and skilled health workers.
The White Ribbon Alliance in Tanzania (WRATZ) is working hard to reduce maternal mortality and to bring the issue of the shortage of midwives to the forefront of the political agenda. As part of this work, WRATZ is working to promote midwifery as a profession and to improve the status and working conditions of midwives. This includes working to improve the public perception of midwives and the need for improved working conditions. An example of these efforts is a short film, “What I Want Is Simple“, which is airing on Tanzania national television and radio spots.
Recently, with the financial support of the Health Policy Project, WRATZ organized a public hearing on this issue. Those in the audience were asked if they would choose nursing and midwifery as a career for their children. Of the one thousand people in attendance, only thirteen raised their hands in approval, which led to an in-depth discussion on the subject. Among other findings, it was revealed that students were hesitant to apply to midwifery schools due to the bad timing of acceptance letters. They had to make an enrollment decision for all the other schools a long time before the midwifery schools finalized their acceptance process.
Armed with this knowledge, civil society can now advocate with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training of Tanzania for the necessary changes and timing adjustments to be made so that more students will be encouraged to join the depleting cadre of midwives.