Morogoro, Tanzania—Like many Maasai men in Morogoro, Saitoti Lukuwa had never accompanied his two wives to prenatal care. But then he heard the radio ad for free maternal health services on his mobile phone and decided to check it out.
“We have been worried as my (second) wife has missed her periods in the past few months. So when I heard the radio announcer mention free maternal services to be provided in Morogoro and encouraging men to escort their wives, we decided to come,” said an excited Lukuwa, holding up his small Nokia mobile phone.
His 18-year-old wife, Zaina Tukuya, was indeed pregnant and underwent a series of other health tests at the Mafiga Health Center as part of a community outreach and mobilization event sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Mothers and Infants, Safe, Healthy and Alive (MAISHA) Program, which is led by Jhpiego. More than 1,000 people from the Morogoro region, who were reached by the MAISHA-sponsored radio and TV ads, attended the event.
Jhpiego, through MAISHA, is working to scale up integrated community-based maternal, newborn and child health services in remote and underserved areas, such as the Maasai villages in Morogoro and four other regions in Tanzania. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, MAISHA has promoted health education and counseling messages on prenatal care, the importance of giving birth in a health facility, danger signs in pregnancy, care of the mother and newborn after childbirth, HIV/AIDS counseling and postpartum family planning.
To reach families in the mostly nomadic and patriarchal Maasai community, MAISHA partnered with D-tree International to provide a mobile phone-based application to help community health workers and health facilities enroll clients in health services, screen for pregnancy-related danger signs (using step-by-step checklists), interpret lab results and track client clinic visits.
Maasai husbands and elders like Lukuwa are principally responsible for deciding how and where the women give birth. Besides such traditions and the preference for home delivery, the Maasai’s semi-nomadic way of life—moving from one place to another with their herds of cattle in search of grazing land and water—often hinders access to health services for mothers and newborns.
“It is the first time I am taking my wife to the clinic and I am glad I did this. The nurses provided friendly services,” said Lukuwa. “We were told the progress of the baby, plus my wife was checked for anemia and we both took the HIV test. They even told us the expected date our baby will be born.” Lukuwa then registered his mobile to receive MAISHA-sponsored SMS alerts and messages on the progress of his wife’s pregnancy.
“I have a herd of 50 cattle at home. I am going to sell one cow and buy my wife a mobile phone so she can be receiving these health messages herself,” said Lukuwa as his wife smiled shyly.
The Mafiga Health Center event coincided with Jhpiego’s worldwide 40th anniversary celebrations, marking four decades of lifesaving work to prevent the needless deaths of women and their families. In Tanzania, Jhpiego’s strong, 14-year partnership with the government has helped improve the health of Tanzanians through innovative programs and interventions. For the community health event, the Jhpiego-Tanzania team organized demonstrations of a variety of Jhpiego’s low-cost, lifesaving interventions focused on prenatal, labor and delivery, and postnatal care, as well as cervical cancer screening, and provided health services to 626 visitors.