Empowering Communities for Better Maternal Health

A young pregnant woman in rural Tanzania prepares to give birth at home with a traditional birth attendant (TBA), a common experience for most expectant Tanzanian mothers. But the baby is big and the young mother may face complications in delivery, so the TBA recommends that the woman give birth at a nearby health facility.

Fly! staff

The woman’s mother and relatives, however, disagree and insist that she deliver at home. Then steps in the village health worker, who with the TBA, threatens to report the case to the supportive local official, which finally persuades the family of the woman’s health risks. Later that day, the young mother gives birth to a healthy baby in the local hospital.

Without the work of Global Fund grantee Fly! But Manage Your Family (Fly!), this true story could have had a very different – and tragic – ending. In Tanzania, where 1 in 10 women die giving birth, maternal death is often justified as the fate of being a woman.

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Trainees practice neonatal resuscitation
Trainees practice neonatal resuscitation

To challenge this conventional wisdom, in 2004 a group of professional midwives and reproductive health educators started Fly! to reduce maternal mortality among women and adolescents in rural Tanzania. They wanted a holistic approach to women’s reproductive health that involved decision-makers from throughout the community.

Based in the rural Kisarawe District of Tanzania, Fly! provides clinical training and equipment to nurses, TBAs, traditional healers and volunteer health workers. They are very clever about their partnerships; they work strategically with TBAs and traditional healers who are held in high esteem in their communities, enlisting them in the effort to disseminate accurate medical information about maternal care. With a Global Fund for Women grant, Fly! launched an Annual Summit for Women’s and Children’s Health, where participants met with village government leaders who then agreed to support reproductive health talks for the community during village meetings.

Fly! also directly reaches out to families to dispel many common myths about the dangers of contraception, dietary restrictions for pregnant women, and prenatal care as harmful to one’s baby. They also offer community workshops on family planning, HIV and sexually transmitted infection prevention, and the importance of having birth plans to reduce obstetric emergencies. Fly! actively engages men to participate in these workshops by making the case that, as leaders in their homes and communities, men can support their wives and families and share their knowledge with other men.

The story of the young woman with the risky delivery ended happily thanks to the informed responses of the TBA, the village health worker and the local official. They all understood the risks to the mother and knew how to advocate for her best health outcome. This is the lifesaving work of Fly! and other Global Fund grantees working on sustainable health solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa that educate and empower entire communities to act in the best interest of women before, during and after childbirth.

This grantee was funded through a partnership with Johnson & Johnson.


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