Amina Saidi is a 37 year old mother of five, residing in Mkamba ward of Mkuranga District, an hour’s drive southeast of Dar es Salaam. Mkuranga is one of the poorest districts in southern Tanzania.
Amina’s two room house is constructed from wood and earth. The roof of the section that serves as the kitchen is partially thatched in grass with most of it left open, exposing her and her children to the elements of rain and the scorching sun. The adjoining ‘room’ serves as the bedroom for the family of seven with a single makeshift bed.
The majority of the residents of this area are Muslim and largely rely on farming as a source of food and income. Amina is no exception; she has a garden right next to her house in which she plants cassava, cashew nuts and corn that she uses to feed her family. She also makes cooking pots which she sells at the nearby market providing a minimal source of income for her family. The family also has three chickens running around the compound that are a valuable source of eggs. She fetches water for her family at a nearby borehole provided by AMREF as part of the Mkuranga Water and Sanitation Project.
As she pounds dried cassava to make flour for the family’s evening meal with the help of her nine year old daughter Khadija Athumani, Amina talks about her family.
“My husband and I have lost two children, one at 6 months in 1996 and the other at four years in late October this year. One died in his sleep with no prior illness or complications and the other just fell ill one day and died the next.”
A matter of life and death
In 2002, several villages in this district got together to approach AMREF to address the problem of high numbers of pregnant mothers dying at childbirth. One of the issues which arose was the lack of transport available for expectant mothers when they went into labor. Also, they made it clear that traveling to the health facility when delivering was difficult as there was no place to stay overnight.
In response, AMREF through the Mkuranga Reproductive Health Project constructed maternity homes at seven health facilities to increase the utilization of the services during pregnancy and at childbirth, as well as increase the number of women delivering with the assistance of trained attendants. The local communities contributed by providing all the bricks and sand for the facilities.
The maternity home at Mkamba dispensary where Amina delivered her son Rashid is one such facility. At the dispensary, she received reproductive health services, information on family planning and anti-Malaria medication to protect her and her unborn child from malaria which is rampant in the village.
Amina is fortunate to live just fifteen minutes from the health center. Others are not as lucky. Some must travel long distances with no means of transportation across poor road networks to access these facilities.