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For those of us passionate about improving access to quality maternal healthcare, thinking about progress towards the MDGs can be disheartening. But this holiday season, as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, we are reminding ourselves to be grateful for the little victories.

A long way to go

It’s a sobering fact that, despite encouraging steps in the right direction, we are very far from reaching our goals (1).

  • The global maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 45% between 1990 and 2013: far short of the 75% target.
  • The maternal mortality ratio in developing regions is 14 times higher than in developed regions.
  • 300,000 women worldwide died in 2013 due to pregnancy or childbirth related causes.
Image c/o Kupona Foundation
CCBRT/Daniel Hayduk/2014

Tanzania: The national context

Kupona Foundation is a non-profit committed to improving access to quality maternal healthcare in Tanzania. If I focus on the Tanzanian context, the picture is still bleak.

  • Every year, 8,000 women die as a result of childbirth or pregnancy related causes (2).
  • For every woman that dies, 20 more will develop an infection, injury or life changing disability (3).
  • There are still significant gaps in the technical skills and critical infrastructure required to enable teams on the ground to save lives.

We have just over 12 months to reduce Tanzania’s maternal mortality rate by 57%. It’s easy to be discouraged about if this is possible.

That’s not to say that the country isn’t pushing for change. Earlier this year, the President of Tanzania, Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, launched the ‘Sharpened One Plan’. Inspired by the country’s laudable achievements in the reduction of child mortality, the plan is designed to accelerate progress towards improving maternal healthcare. In Kikwete’s words

We are still grappling with reducing maternal mortality…we still have a long way to go (4).
~President Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete

“The one person you save means something.”

It is easy to get lost in the statistics, but one of Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania’s (CCBRT) OB/GYNs recently reminded me of the need for perspective. Dr. Fatma Sulieman is one of several district mentors conducting on-the-job training and mentoring at maternity facilities across the region of Dar es Salaam, which has a population of over 4.3 million (5). Dr. Fatma is based at Temeke District Hospital, a facility managing approximately 2,000 deliveries each month with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. (You can learn more about our comprehensive maternal and newborn healthcare program here).

At first, I used to get disappointed when I didn’t get the results I wanted immediately, but then I realized that the one person you save means something.
~Dr. Fatma Sulieman

Image c/o Kupona Foundation
CCBRT/Sala Lewis/2014

Little Victories

Dr. Fatma is right. As we come together this week and give thanks for what we appreciate most, I urge you all to recognize that change is happening.

By taking things one step at a time, Dr. Fatma has seen incredible results at Temeke. The facility reported zero maternal deaths for the month of September. This is remarkable. Thanks to the continued efforts of CCBRT and the Regional Health Management Team to train staff, improve infrastructure and distribute life-saving equipment to maternity facilities in the region of Dar es Salaam, every mother that gave birth at Temeke in the month of September survived. This is huge step forward, and a victory for the families of Dar es Salaam.

We need to step back and celebrate every individual life saved. Step back, and give thanks for the little victories.

Image c/o Kupona Foundation
CCBRT/Mark Tuschman/2014

Of course, not every month is going to be as successful as September. Thousands of women and their babies are still dying in Tanzania every year. We need to build upon this year’s successes and continue to enable the teams on the ground to improve skills of healthcare providers, ensure that they have access to the facilities and the equipment they need to do their job, and decongest health facilities so that they have the time and space to attend to every patient. We need to step back and celebrate every individual life saved, and give thanks for the little victories.

Written by Abbey Kocan
Executive Director, Kupona Foundation

Share this post on social media and remind your followers to give thanks for #littlevictories.

Follow us on Twitter: @KuponaFdn & @CCBRTTanzania


  1. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014’, United Nations’
  2.  Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) 2010, National Bureau of Statistics, Tanzania, April 2011, Dar es Salaam
  3. Nanda, Geeta, Kimberly Switlich and Elizabeth Lule, Accelerating progress towards Achieving the MDG to Improve Maternal Health: A Collection of promising Approaches, World Bank, Washington D.C., April 2005, p4.
  4. Putting Mothers of Tanzania First, UNFPA Tanzania, August 8, 2014.
  5. Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics Online Census Database, November 2014

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