Since unrest began in Burundi in mid-2015, hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled to safety in neighboring countries.
More than 140,000 of these have taken refuge in Tanzania alone. The situation remains tense, and an end to the movement is not at present in sight. By the end of 2016, it is estimated that camp Mtendele in the north west of Tanzania will host around 25,000 refugees. The local medical infrastructure has been and is presently severely overstretched by the new arrivals. To help secure the situation for expectant mothers and their children in the camp, Malteser International – the Order of Malta’s worldwide relief agency – is building a maternity unit that will provide free treatment for Burundian refugees and local inhabitants.
The rate of maternal mortality in Tanzania is around sixty times higher than in some major Western European countries. At present, mothers in Mtendele access medical assistance at a basic health center that is unable to perform surgical operations. Where difficulties arise during birth or pregnancy, the women are forced to travel 36 kilometers along unsealed roads, which are often impassable during the rainy season, to the nearest hospital. This poses a serious risk of severe illness or even death for women and their children.
“We have looked at the camp with our local partner, and decided to answer the urgent request of the head doctor there to do something to improve the situation for pregnant women at Mtendele, and provide a place where they can receive treatment,” said Iovanna Lesniewski, Project Manager at Malteser International.
The maternity unit is due to open in December 2016.