News and stories

Combating Noncommunicable Diseases Starts with Providing Quality Preventative Care for Young People

Sep, 2018

Dr. Bazil Kavishe can easily recall figures and statistics from projects and publications he completed over a decade ago related to how noncommunicable diseases impact Tanzanians. It’s impressive given the breadth of his career as a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), the largest public health research organization in Tanzania.

 

Dedicating himself and his career to improving people’s quality of life has always been Dr. Bazil’s plan, though not as a research scientist initially. While completing a clinical internship at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam after medical school, he was inspired to pursue a profession dedicated to noncommunicable disease (NCD) research and prevention efforts. “I thought, instead of working at the hospital and treating people who are experiencing complications [from various NCDs], it would be a good opportunity for me to join a public health team and work on interventions and operational research that may improve the prevention aspects of these conditions.” The evidence he collects ultimately informs health programs and policies with the goal of eliminating the need for hospital care through effective prevention strategies, including public education, screening, and early diagnosis.

 

In Tanzania, NCDs account for about one-third of all deaths, of which cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause. NCDs are a very real threat to Tanzanians of all ages, even more than HIV/AIDS or malaria at this point. Because of this, Dr. Bazil argues, “There is a need to focus resources on the younger population because chronic diseases are setting in at a very young age. If you don’t intervene during early childhood or adolescence, you are likely to have an increasingly high prevalence of NCDs during adulthood.”

 

Early on, Dr. Bazil and his team conducted a study to establish the burden of selected NCDs and HIV in Mwanza, Tanzania. Their research uncovered a higher prevalence of hypertension and diabetes among adults than previously thought (Read the full article). Surprisingly, they also discovered that a significant number of people aged 18-44 already had hypertension, a disease most often found in older populations. Concerned about these findings, Dr. Bazil led an independent research project to further explore the prevalence of hypertension in adolescents and children. In collaboration with colleagues in Uganda he conducted a survey in secondary schools and higher learning institutions in Mwanza and in Entebbe, Uganda.

 

Touch Foundation worked closely with NIMR and Dr. Bazil on the needs assessment for our Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) program. His team worked in Tanzania’s Sengerema district in 2016 to determine the prevalence of sore throats and the availability of drugs and equipment needed to treat and diagnose strep throat. Screening those who recently suffered from a sore throat can help identify strep throat cases, which, if left untreated, can damage heart valves and result in Rheumatic Heart Disease later in life. This nearly entirely preventable NCD is the most commonly acquired heart disease among young people under 25 and is particularly dangerous to pregnant women. Using this research, Touch is strengthening the health system by upgrading equipment (i.e. ultrasound machines), providing supplies, and training healthcare workers.

 

Hypertension is another dangerous and widely prevalent cardiovascular condition in Tanzania. Our Healthy Heart Africa program, is addressing hypertension in pregnancy, which is responsible for 16% of maternal deaths and many newborn deaths. Dr. Bazil sees Healthy Heart Africa as an important opportunity to educate more women on NCDs, the importance of preventative care, and lifestyle risk factors like diet. He also   believes it is critical to train healthcare workers on how to provide high quality care. Through this program and our RHD program, we will screen 50,000 pregnant women for high blood pressure and heart conditions like RHD and connect them to treatment.

 

This September, the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly brings together governments, civil society, and the private sector for the third High-Level Meeting to discuss the progress and action needed on NCDs. We believe that high quality research led by top Tanzanian organizations like NIMR as well as robust multidisciplinary partnerships are critical to addressing the burden of NCDs. Together, we can support health systems to better prevent, diagnose, treat, and manage NCDs so that all people­­—and especially youth­­—live long, productive lives.

Caroline Mtani is fierce about helping mothers and babies

Feb, 2018

“I have devoted most of my work to serving the disadvantaged, pregnant women and children under the age of five.” Working in an under-resourced facility, Caroline Mtani is often exhausted by her day’s work. But she still finds herself spending any free moment she has in the maternity ward; “When I see the baby is drinking and is active, I feel happy. No one has the spare time to spend with the babies, but I enjoy it.”

 

Caroline Mtani is boundlessly energized by her work at Sengerema Designated District Hospital (SDDH), a rural hospital in Tanzania. Caroline has worked at SDDH for her entire medical career, spanning nearly three decades. For the first twenty years, Caroline worked as a nurse midwife. After the birth of her second child, and with support from her husband, Caroline decided to get her Assistant Medical Officer (AMO) diploma from the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (CUHAS) in Mwanza, Tanzania. The AMO diploma allowed her to provide the full spectrum of maternal care, including C-sections. Deciding to pursue the advanced diploma was not an easy choice as it required her to leave her two young children and husband and move to Mwanza for two years of challenging studies. Caroline succeeded in obtaining her diploma and returned to work with SDDH to provide care to mothers, newborns, and other patients in this underserved area.

 

Touch first partnered with SDDH in 2013. Tanzania continues to face a severe shortage of healthcare workers like doctors, nurse midwives and AMOs. Touch’s Treat & Train program tackles this gap in Tanzania’s health system. The Treat & Train Network connects hospitals and training facilities so that medical and nursing students can gain valuable hands-on experience during clinical rotations while also helping to provide better care to patients in under-resourced health facilities. With her wealth of knowledge about the Lake Zone’s medical facilities as well as a drive to bring impassioned healthcare workers to SDDH and the surrounding area, Caroline, the Co-coordinator of the program, is essential to the success of Treat & Train.

 

Four years after Treat & Train began at SDDH, Caroline continues to pursue her goal of bringing positive change to her community through better healthcare. She is the National Facilitator for the Helping Babies Breathe training program at SDDH as well as the clinician in charge of maternal issues and the Supervisor of the Mobilizing Maternal Health Program.

 

Caroline reflected that “Touch is like family”. These deep, trust-based relationships with our local partners are the heart of what we do at Touch and key to sustainable change. Caroline has facilitated a meaningful partnership between Touch and SDDH out of a personal drive to empower her own patients and her fellow healthcare workers. She continues to strive towards the goal of creating an ever stronger SDDH and Tanzanian health system, a goal we can proudly say we share and are working together to achieve.

Restituta achieved her dream of helping other women

Dec, 2017

Working as a dispatcher in Touch’s Mobilizing Maternal Health program, Restituta helps women in labor reach emergency care. 

 

Restituta Mabilla Limbe is a determined 34-year-old woman who always dreamed of helping women and young girls in her community. Growing up in Sengerema, a rural town in north-west Tanzania, Restituta noticed a pattern of inequality between the women and men in her community. In spite of having four siblings, she was the only child expected to work, because she was the only woman. Her younger brothers were free to do as they pleased, while she and her mother carried all of the family’s responsibilities. To Restituta, women unjustly had more difficult lives since traditional norms required them to work hard day and night.

 

Inspired by the inequality she witnessed as a child, she dreamed of a way to help other women in her community. Her dream had to be put on hold due to her family’s lack of finances at the time she was enrolling in University, a rare accomplishment for Tanzanian women. Restituta was obligated to study Information Technology because it was the only course she could receive funding to complete.

 

After several years of studying and then working as a graphic designer in another part of the country, Restituta moved back to Sengerema to be closer to her family. One day, she saw an advertisement for an open dispatcher position as part of Touch Foundation’s Mobilizing Maternal Health program. Holding the flier in her hand, Restituta felt certain this position would allow her to realize her dream of helping women.

 

Today, Restituta is the top dispatcher at Sengerema District Hospital. Her typical day at the referral center, which is open 24/7, involves taking calls and arranging emergency transport via a mobile application for pregnant women and newborns so women can safely deliver at health facilities in the care of skilled providers. She has even earned the position of Team Leader because of her hard work and commitment leading her peer dispatchers. However, this is not Restituta’s only role. She is also the mother of two young boys, a four year old and one year old. With the support of her mother, Restituta is able to leave her children at home and go into work every day to save mothers and newborns.

 

Restituta’s job is often challenging due to cultural barriers. Traditionally women in Tanzania are accustomed to delivering in their own homes. With nearly half of all Tanzanian women giving birth at home without the care of a skilled healthcare worker, there is a high risk of birth complications. One of Restituta’s greatest challenges is convincing family members that their loved one is in grave danger and needs to be transported to the hospital immediately. Through Touch’s Mobilizing Maternal Health program, Restituta has been a key player in reducing maternal mortality by 27% in her community.

 

Restituta has achieved her dream of helping women in her community, but her work is far from finished. Her interest in the health field has grown immensely and she hopes to return to school and earn her nursing degree in order to continue helping vulnerable women and young girls.

How one Burundian doctor became the only OBGYN in Sengerema, Tanzania

Oct, 2017
Dr. Harusha Simplice is the only obstetrician-gynecologist at Sengerema Council Designated Hospital, serving over 700,000 people. After becoming a general practitioner Dr. Harusha secured his specialist training through Touch’s Treat Train program, which improves medical education and patient care in the Lake Zone.     A Burundian refugee forced to flee to Tanzania as a teenager, Dr. Harusha Simplice always knew he wanted to be a physician. According to his mother, at the ripe age of two he used to comfort his friends and family by reassuring them that one day he would be a doctor. His father also wanted to be a doctor, but he was never able to practice as he died in an accident two months after graduating from medical school. When Dr. Harusha was in his final year of schooling his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died just a year later. It was his mother’s death that cemented his desire to help women and strive to one day become an obstetrician-gynecologist.   After graduating, Dr. Harusha began practicing medicine at Sengerema Council Designated Hospital. Five years later, Dr. Harusha, now a father of two boys with another one on the way, decided he needed to find a way to receive specialized training to become an obstetrician-gynecologist and pursue his aspiration of helping women. At this point Dr. Harusha encountered Touch Foundation, just as we were in the process of expanding our Treat & Train program to Sengerema Council Designated Hospital. Through Dr. Harusha’s perseverance and partnership with Touch, he was able to receive the education required to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology.   Today, Dr. Harusha is the only trained OBGYN at Sengerema Council Designated Hospital. This 300-bed hospital serves over 700,000 people and delivers about 25-30 babies per day. For Dr. Harusha, it is not uncommon to attend to multiple women giving birth in the same room with the help of just two nurses. In fact, in Tanzania the shortage of healthcare workers is a main contributor to the high maternal death rate.   In early October, Dr. Harusha completed a training held by our partner MeduProf-S on SonoSite ultrasound machines in order to perform heart disease and obstetric ultrasound screenings during maternity checkups. For all of the clinicians present at the training, this was their first experience with an ultrasound machine. In the United States, women usually receive an initial screening at the beginning of their pregnancies to confirm a viable pregnancy. Most women in the United States will receive numerous ultrasounds throughout a pregnancy, and at least 1 anatomy screening at 20 weeks to ensure healthy development. Most Tanzanian women have never received an ultrasound screening during their pregnancy, but this is changing as women are increasingly requesting them and the technology is becoming more widely available. Dr. Harusha’s training, and others like it, will not only give women access to ultrasounds to ensure the health of their developing babies, but will also screen them for any heart anomalies, which can go undiagnosed until delivery, putting the mother at risk during labor. Following the training, the SonoSite ultrasound machine installed at Sengerema hospital, and three additional machines were installed in other high-risk area health centers.   Dr. Harusha truly believes in the sustainability of the unique education model of Touch’s Treat & Train program. He continues to learn new skills which are valuable for him and also valuable to the medical students he is training and to the women he is attending to. For Dr. Harusha, continuing his education and partnership with Touch empowers him to achieve his goal of saving the lives of women and children.

THE STORY OF ALLAN JOEL AND HIS DRIVE TO SAVE LIVES IN THE OPERATING ROOM

Jun, 2017

Five billion people live without access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care. These operating room services are crucial to treating people with cardiovascular conditions, bone fractures, pregnancy complications, and many other health issues. If these services are inaccessible it can lead to an avoidable disability or premature death.  This situation is far too common in Tanzania where surgical and anesthesia care is lacking and the country is facing a large shortage of healthcare workers with the needed skills. 

 

Allan Joel is an ambitious 29-year-old nurse anesthetist trained to meet all of a patient’s anesthesia needs before, during and after surgery or the delivery of a baby. Allan developed a passion for medicine in 1989, the year his father was diagnosed with diabetes. He witnessed his father suffer from inadequate medical care and decided at a young age to pursue nursing so that he could help his father and others in need. After graduating from nursing school, he applied for a nurse midwifery position at Sengerema Hospital, a 325-bed rural hospital serving 800,000 Tanzanians. Limited funding and resources at the hospital prevented Allan from getting a position and forced him to reconsider his career.

 

Touch accepted Allan Joel’s application to work as a medical scribe aiding the Treat & Train program. While Allan worked as a medical scribe, he was able to spend all of his free time volunteering in the ICU and operating theaters at Sengerema Hospital. In the ICU and operating theaters, Allan was exposed to anesthesiology and realized the impact he could have on patients’ lives in this field. Inspired to learn the skills necessary to provide life support in a safe surgical environmentAllan applied for a one-year nurse anesthetist certification at Bugando Medical Centre. With the help of a Touch-funded grant, he graduated in September 2016 and promptly returned to Sengerema Hospital to begin working in the operating room.

 

Mortality and morbidity related to anesthesia and surgery are all too common in Tanzania. We recognize the importance of a safe and sterile surgical environment to protect everyone, including patients, healthcare workers and students, from infection, injury, and other harm. Touch, together with hardworking individuals like Allan Joel, is working to improve access to safe surgical care and save lives at Sengerema Hospital and our other partner health facilities.

 

With Touch’s help, Allan was able to start a career in the field of anesthesiology. Although Allan’s work comes with many challenges, including working with only a limited number of trained specialists and equipment, his dynamic drive to find solutions has made him an integral part of the hospital. He has already devoted seven years of his life to improving the care of patients and aims to return to school next year to qualify as an Assistant Anesthesiologist. Touch is proud to support the ambition of young healthcare workers and improve the lives of Tanzanians by providing greater access to quality skilled providers and safe surgical care.