VSO’s health innovation in Tanzania has packaged a select set of low-tech, relatively low-cost interventions to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes at district level. Through two earlier pilot projects, VSO has rolled out simple checklist tools, introduced low-cost imaging technology, and set up Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in three district hospitals.

The steps that the project has taken to ensure the model is prepared for scale-up, demonstrate the value of the Design for Scale Digital Development Principle. Through support from HDIF, VSO has added an SMS information and follow-up service and clinical mentorship for doctors and nurses from maternal and newborn specialists. This will provide a package of services that could improve referrals and the ability to identify and handle pregnancy complications.

Although Tanzania has made significant progress in reducing maternal/neonatal and child mortality, the number of deaths remains stubbornly high at 454 per 100,000 live births and 26 per 1,000 births respectively. Evidence indicates that the majority of these deaths are correlated with home births – nearly half of which take place without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant. For births in hospitals and other health facilities, inadequate equipment and clinical training often undermine quality of care. The limited availability of emergency obstetric and newborn care services, a chronic shortage of skilled healthcare workers and a weak referral system all contribute to maternal and neonatal deaths. If life-threatening complications develop for mothers and neonates at home or in illprepared primary health facilities, the decision to seek appropriate care often comes too late.

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