Saving Mothers' Lives in Rural Tanzania

by VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations
Training on misoprostol to save lives
Training on misoprostol to save lives

In Tanzania and in 13 other developing countries, VSI is working to ensure frontline health workers are equipped and trained on the use and benefits of misoprostol tablets for the management of postpartum hemorrhaging – the leading cause of maternal death.   The response to our efforts in reaching women who might not otherwise be protected from the life-threatening bleeding is encouraging.  Mothers are recommending the tablets to their pregnant friends and midwives are reporting a sense of security during home deliveries, a time often overshadowed by fear of dying.

At a recent annual meeting for the Private Nurse Midwives Association of Tanzania (PRINMAT), nurses were outspoken about the positive impact misoprostol tablets are having on women’s lives.   In a country where women face a 1 in 23 lifetime risk of maternal death, many of the nurse midwives are deployed to some of the most remote areas of the country.  Feeling finally equipped with a medicine that is simple, effective and practical in a village-setting, they shared their enthusiasm on having a tool to treat their patients.  Since the introduction of misoprostol, many nurses said they are now seeing fewer cases of life-threatening bleeding.

In our efforts to educate and train all levels of health care providers, VSI is introducing a lecture series for medical and midwife students on the use and benefits of misoprostol tablets in partnership with the Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (AGOTA).   The lecture series, approved by the Ministry of Health, is held at various medical and midwifery educational institutions across the country.  Engaging and training our future doctors, nurses, and midwives – some whom may be in a position of influence someday – is an important step to creating sustainable and lasting change in Tanzania.  Although the lecture series has just begun, over 300 students have already participated.

Our progress in making motherhood safer in Tanzania cannot happen without the shared belief, commitment, and generosity of our Global Giving Community.  Thank you for helping us save mother’s lives.


Mother and Baby in Tanzania
Mother and Baby in Tanzania

Women who reside in rural areas in Africa are not privy to western conveniences like a health clinic, a doctor or nurse, or even electricity.  Many mothers deliver their babies at home with the help of a family member or midwife.  But the risk of complications, specifically hemorrhaging which is the leading cause of death, is high.  Tanzanian women unfortunately have a 1 in 24 lifetime risk of dying from maternal causes.   Their deaths are unacceptable and preventable.

A solution exists that comes in the form of a simple, affordable and easy-to-use tablet called misoprostol.  When a mother takes three life-saving tablets immediately after the baby is born, it can effectively prevent excessive bleeding.  A preventative dose is amazingly low in Tanzania– $1.00.

For essentially pennies, a mother’s life can be saved.  Thousands of women's lives can be spared by making misoprostol available through local businesses in rural Tanzania and by training frontline providers like midwives, nurses, traditional birth attendants -even the mothers themselves - to use these tablets.

In the next nine days, VSI has an opportunity to increase our impact.  Global Giving is launching a generous matching campaign this Tuesday, October 12th which will run through the following Thursday, October 21st.  Every donation made to this project will be matched by Global Giving.  Make your dollar, which is the cost of this life-saving medicine, stretch by giving a gift through VSI to support our mission and help us reach the women most in need.

No matter where you live pregnancy and childbirth should be a cherished and joyous experience, not one of fear.  Thank you to our committed donors who share this belief and our dedication to making maternal health an equal right no matter where you live.

First Lady Karume and VSI
First Lady Karume and VSI's Dr. Ndola Prata

This summer at the 2010 Women Deliver Conference held in Washington, DC, VSI was honored to receive recognition from the First Lady of Zanzibar for our safe motherhood program on the islands of Zanzibar that form part of Tanzania.

During the three-day conference which united over 3,000 policymakers, women’s advocates and health care professionals from over 115 countries, new technologies to save and improve mothers’ lives were highlighted including misoprostol tablets as an effective method to prevent bleeding after childbirth. At a special meeting, VSI’s Medical and Programs Director, Dr. Ndola Prata, accepted a gift from First Lady of Zanzibar, Mrs. Amani Abeid Karume, as recognition for VSI’s role in improving maternal health through the introduction of misoprostol to manage postpartum bleeding in Zanzibar. In this intimate gathering where women were highlighted as the social and economic heart of villages, both VSI and First Lady Karume pledged their support and commitment in broadening awareness and availability of this life-saving technology so more mothers’ lives will be saved. To date VSI has trained 497 midwives and other primary health care providers on misoprostol for women’s health on the islands of Zanzibar.

We share this recognition and gift with our generous contributors who not only share our commitment to preventing mothers from dying in childbirth but help make this work possible


We are pleased to report encouraging preliminary results from our collaborative and innovative program introducing distribution of misoprostol tablets to women when they come for prenatal care in Tanzania. The project is designed to equip expectant mothers with the tablets to safeguard against bleeding in case they cannot return when it comes time to deliver.

The project's focus on community education through conversations with trained health providers and radio and poster messages has contributed to proper use of the tablets by all of the expectant mothers who took them at home for prevention of bleeding after childbirth. This strategy for reaching mothers who might not otherwise be protected from the life-threatening bleeding is proving effective; the percentage of women interviewed who were protected against this condition increased to 90% with the introduction of misoprostol tablets.

Not only is the project showing that misoprostol is a safe and feasible means to increase protection against bleeding, the mothers who have taken the tablets are pleased with the experience. Almost all of the mothers who have taken the preventative tablets said they would take misoprostol in a subsequent pregnancy and would recommend the tablets to a pregnant friend. Many would also purchase the tablets themselves to ensure they were prepared for delivery, particularly in case they could not make it to a health facility to deliver.

We look forward to updating supportive contributors and policymakers in Tanzania when the final results of this project become available later this year so we can continue to make these life-saving tablets available to Tanzanian mothers.


To help make safe delivery a reality for the women of Tanzania, with our local partners we continue to educate health care providers on how to use misoprostol tablets to manage excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage. By training those who attend deliveries, we are helping to ensure that mothers have the chance to survive childbirth, an often frightening experience for lack of medical care and technology. For instance, we recently provided misoprostol tablets to a local association of nurse-midwives. This particular group is comprised of nurse-midwives who have retired from government service, returned to their home villages, and opened small private practices where public services are often unavailable. They are filling a critical need for skilled attendance at birth in the most remote areas of Tanzania. These nurse-midwives are eager to use misoprostol to protect the mothers they serve in their clinics.

The nurse-midwife who heads the association exclaimed, “You can never know how people shouted with happiness when they heard the news. Surely believe that you have made access easy to [our] clinics, but most of all you are going to save many lives that are helpless and needy.”

We are grateful for the support of donors who share our commitment to preventing mothers from dying in childbirth.


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Organization Information

VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations

Location: Irvine, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​
VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations
Project Leader:
Allison Boiles
Communications Specialist
Anaheim, CA United States

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