March 27, 2006

Maternal deaths on the rise / Zanzibar sets up anti-cholera taskforce

More should be done to curb maternal deaths, which have continued to rise in Tanzania in the past decade despite efforts to reverse the trend, activists and officials have said. "It is a saddening reality, but still maternal deaths can be avoided," Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Tanzania's former president, told a rally to commemorate women and girls who died due to childbirth and pregnancy complications. Citing Ministry of Health statistics, Mwinyi said maternal deaths increased from 529 out of every 100.000 birth in 1996 to 578 out of every 100.000 in 2005. "Such a level is very high and not acceptable," he added. According to him, maternal deaths could be avoided if qualified and skilled health workers were recruited to be deployed in clinics, especially in rural areas. He stressed there had been several government initiatives in past two decades, including the provision of free services to expectant women, the provision of insecticide treated mosquito bed nets and counselling. However, he said studies had shown that only 45 percent of women attending pre-natal clinics were seen by qualified personnel. The studies also blamed malnutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS as being among the underlying causes of deaths during pregnancy and childbirth.

In the meantime, Zanzibar has launched an anti-cholera taskforce following an outbreak of the disease, which has resulted in four deaths in Unguja and Pemba. At least 100 cases of severe diarrhoea had also been recorded in the islands, Zanzibar's health and social welfare minister, Sultan Mohamed Mugheiry, said when he launched the taskforce in the capital, Stone Town. According to him, preliminary findings by health officials that were sent to Pemba showed that "contaminated water and lack of proper toilets in the affected areas had contributed to the cholera outbreak, plus shortage of chlorine to treat water". Mugheiry also urged Zanzibaris to observe health safety measures, including boiling drinking water and making use of toilets. He also appealed to the local media to help in the awareness campaign.

Zanzibar has repeatedly been hit by cholera epidemics, the most severe of which was recorded in late 1997 - killing at least 123 people with more than 1.065 reported cases. (Rts)

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