Tanzania has made important progress in fighting illness affecting mothers and children, and it continues to make headway toward its millennium development goals.
With a population of more than 53 million people, Tanzania is a large country facing unique but by no means insurmountable health challenges. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP is around 5.6%.
Tanzania has made great strides in recent years in combating disease and ill health in terms of neonatal, infant, and women’s health, and officials are justifiably proud. According to the 2016 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey, Tanzania’s average household contains 4.9 members and one-quarter of all households are headed by women. Fertility rates hit 5.2 children per woman in 2016, a demographic reality that has resulted in an extremely youthful population; 46% of the country is below the age of 15. As in other regions, rural women have higher fertility rates than urban women, with rates of six children and 3.8 children per woman, respectively. Infant mortality and neonatal mortality have dropped considerably in recent years, with rates hitting 43 and 25 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively. Family planning has gained popularity in Tanzania in the last few years, and approximately 40% of married women currently use some method of family planning. Family planning rates are higher among unmarried women, with 54% of women engaging in some form of birth control. The government provides the majority (61%) of family planning resources. Around 75% of children in Tanzania received all basic vaccinations in 2016, and only 2% received no vaccinations. Predictably, wealthier households have greater rates of vaccination, but the government has made great strides in ensuring that rural and low-income families receive basic vaccinations. Tanzania has been trying to combat a fairly serious shortage in health workers in recent years. The country currently has only 5.2 health workers per 10,000 people, a ratio that is a scant one-fifth the optimal level identified by the WHO. Additionally, only around 50% of pregnant women receive aid or consultation from a doctor, midwife, or nurse during pregnancy. These poor statistics have meant less than ideal health outcomes, and maternal mortality has remained a persistent problem. The government has not remained silent, however, and has initiated programs aimed at increasing the number of health professionals in the country, according to the WHO. One recent initiative saw the employment of nearly 11,000 new health professionals across the country with a particular emphasis on rural areas where services have historically been more limited. Water sanitation and access have been a major issue in Tanzania, and roughly 61% of households have access to an improved water source. There is, however, a good deal of geographical disparity, with 86% of urban mainland households having access to improved water sources compared to only 48% of rural mainland households. In Zanzibar, an impressive 98% of households enjoy access to improved water sources. Infectious disease has also been a major source of health problems for the Tanzanian population, but strides are continuously being made. Institutions in the public and private sphere have committed themselves to developing holistic plans for addressing the country’s major diseases. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Prof. Yunus D. Mgaya, Director General of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), described his organization’s multi-stakeholder approach to combating disease. “A policy must take into account the need to have all the important players involved or at least considered,” said Mgaya. “When NIMR puts research on the table to be transformed down the line into practice and policy, we are cognizant of the existence of other sectors.” This holistic approach has opened the door for meaningful coordination between public and private institutions, allowing Tanzania to improve health outcomes while simultaneously developing a more robust domestic health industry. Tanzanians spend an average of TZS48,332 on health-related needs every year, and multi-pronged governmental and private initiatives are bringing higher standards to many regions of the country.