Justine’s children are the light of her life. Her greatest prayer is for them to be happy and successful. When she learned she was pregnant again, she was overjoyed. But then the pain began. About a month before she became pregnant, she had appendix surgery. The surgery led to complications, and Justine was in extreme pain every time her baby kicked. Happily, Justine came to a Medical Teams clinic for help. She received treatment during her pregnancy, and safely delivered her baby. Patients like Justine are the reason we’re celebrating — in the last 4 years, we’ve had no maternal deaths in the refugee camps we serve in Tanzania!

Justine says,

“My life was in danger. Without the assistance of Medical Teams, things could have gotten much worse.”

Refugee women like Justine are often forced to walk their pregnancy journeys alone. This reality has led to a tragic statistic. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 536 women die per 100,000 births due to pregnancy-related causes. This rate is nearly twice as high as the global average of 223. But Medical Teams International is helping change this statistic by embracing collaboration, community health initiatives, and increasing access to care.

Read on to see how we’ve achieved zero maternal deaths in Tanzania in the last 4 years!

Causes of maternal death

Mothers like Justine, who have complicated pregnancies, need quality care to survive childbirth. Photo by Suhaila Stanthon Thawer.

Most maternal deaths are preventable, and yet rates are still devastatingly high. According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, a mother died every 2 minutes. That’s nearly 290,000 women a year, or almost 800 women every day. Additionally, almost 95% of all maternal deaths occurred in low-income countries. This is especially true in the places we serve, where many women are unable to access health care during their pregnancies or while delivering. A few of the major complications that account for nearly 75% of all maternal deaths are: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections after childbirth, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and complications from delivery.

Working together to save lives

Medical Teams supports pregnant women in the places we serve throughout their whole pregnancy journey, from pre-natal care to post-birth. Women receive prenatal care to monitor pregnancies, screen for diseases, and provide vaccinations, which reduce health risks for mothers. Trained professionals at Medical Teams health facilities encourage pregnant women to deliver there, ensuring safe and hygienic deliveries. Treated mosquito nets and malaria prevention are also provided during visits to prevent malaria among pregnant women and newborns. But it takes more than a few tactics to ensure zero maternal deaths — it takes commitment, dedication, and collaboration to make sure mothers serve childbirth.

Getting to zero through…

Skilled health workers

Complications during pregnancy can happen unexpectedly and threaten the mother’s life. Medical Teams clinics are staffed by skilled nurses, midwives, and doctors to handle these risks. During visits, health workers identify pregnancies at risk and quickly refer them to appropriate medical facilities for immediate care. In the last four years, many technical trainings have been provided to staff. They also receive training on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, emphasizing their physical and emotional well-being and ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual violence. In Tanzania, we have excellent safe motherhood coverage in an effort to reduce maternal health. In 2023, 98% of women in the camps we serve gave birth in a facility!


The World Health Organization advises waiting at least 24 months between pregnancies to improve child and maternal health. Medical Teams offers reproductive health education, including family planning. Making sure families understand the importance of waiting, and how to delay pregnancies, is a critical facet of reducing maternal death.

Community health workers

Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of health care for mothers — it’s a lack of education or knowledge about the options available to them. That’s where our community health initiatives come in. Community health workers visit homes to remind and encourage mothers to attend antenatal and postnatal care appointments and deliver at health facilities. They offer crucial support and guidance to mothers and help arrange ambulances in case of emergencies. Mothers also receive “mama kits” containing necessary infant care items upon delivery at the facilities. Community health workers are also trained to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in camps and to use reporting systems. Taken together, leveraging the strengths of our community health workers is a key way to reduce maternal death.

Collaboration and partnerships

Delivering quality comprehensive maternal health care requires teamwork. Medical Teams sets a standard for collaboration, even when it’s complicated. But when the result is zero maternal deaths, it’s worth it! Our District Medical Officer holds monthly meetings with key providers, community members, and partnering agencies to review progress, plans, and labor and maternity performance. Quarterly, skilled health workers also receive supportive supervision and mentorship by experienced specialists from regional and district hospitals.

Zero maternal deaths matter

Vitorina is another mother who had a complicated pregnancy, but survived thanks to the care she received at one of our clinics. Photo by Suhaila Stanthon Thawer.

Vitorina, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tragically lost many babies in utero or shortly after birth. When she faced complications in her eleventh pregnancy, she worried she was not going to make it. Her husband and her decided to try traditional medicine, but on the way, a stranger advised her to go to a Medical Teams clinic. From the moment they arrived, they were encouraged by witnessing a training session for expectant mothers.

Vitorina says,

“Everything the health worker taught in training seemed to be about my situation. I felt relieved and realized I was in the right place.”

Vitorina and her husband share how Medical Teams welcomed them, listened to them, and advised them to enroll in a maternal health program. She was closely monitored throughout her pregnancy, and delivered Hussein, a healthy baby boy, via a scheduled C-section.

She says, “I am grateful to hold this baby in my arms. I’m no longer living in the shadow of fear. My health and the health of my baby are excellent. I believe God has used Medical Teams to put an end to my horror.”

You can help mothers like Justine and Vitorina get the prenatal care, check-ups, and support they need to deliver their babies safely! Join The Pulse, our community of recurring givers, to make sure mothers are cared for today and into the future.

Joy Forney is a marketing specialist with Medical Teams International.