Safer Births

October 18 2020 | by

IN THE RUKWA region of Tanzania, by far the poorest rural region in the country due to the scarcity and inadequacy of transport connections, lies Mvimwa Abbey. Its health centre serves more than 20,000 people living in the surrounding area of Sumbawanga Province. “People here live in very precarious conditions,” explains Fr. Lawrence Samson Ntiyakila, project manager of an upgrade and refurbishment project for the existing health centre. “Houses lack water, light, and even floors,” he continues. “The Abbey plays a social role of primary importance for health care and education thanks to its 20-bed health centre, management of a primary school with 350 places, a professional school for electricians and mechanics in Mvimwa, and a secondary school with over 1,000 students situated 60 kilometres from the abbey in the city of Sumbawanga. We do all this despite great difficulties and always with awareness that there is huge room for improvement.”


Work and pray


The Abbey is made up of 96 exclusively African monks, and is part of the Missionary Benedictines of St. Ottilien, a congregation founded in 1884. The mission at Mvimwa itself was founded on June 3, 1979. Starting as a Religious House, it became a priory in 1986. Subsequently, it was raised to the position of Conventual Priory in 1995, and finally became a Benedictine abbey in 2001. It has as its motto Ora et Labora which means ‘Pray and Work’. Members of the Abbey are assigned work by the Abbot, depending on their competencies. According to the Abbey website, the monks “pray in order to sanctify our life and all our daily dealings. We work, in order to respond to the driving call of work so that we can support our daily living, and support the needy who immediately fall at our feet, and also those at a distance.”

The Abbey’s health centre has been active for over 20 years. Originally constructed without particular regard to healthcare and safety, it was no longer fit for purpose considering the number of beds, and it also lacked bathrooms and dining facilities. A project was set up to enlarge the facilities by creating two new blocks: the first would be the maternity, paediatrics and neonatology department, fully kitted out with furniture and technical equipment, and the second a kitchen and canteen for the sick and their families, together with a training room where new mothers could be taught the principles of hygiene and nutrition. The structure of the former – with an area of 700 square metres – had already been completed, thanks to the monks, and contributions from the local population and other charitable organisations. It consists of rooms for labour and delivery, toilets, showers, and a laundry room. The project proposed to St Anthony’s Charities was to provide funds for furniture and equipment for the new block. The sum approved for this purpose was €40,000.


Up and running


The award was split into two instalments. The first was received towards the end of October 2019, and this allowed the ordering of the equipment needed to get the maternity ward up and running. The equipment arrived in optimal condition at the beginning of November, and was installed by one of the supplier’s technicians. In order to pay for a single transportation of the equipment and installation costs, the supplier also agreed to be paid in two instalments.

The second instalment made it possible to complete payment for the medical equipment and the beds necessary for the maternity ward. “The only difficulty we had,” explains Fr. Lawrence, “was a delay in delivery. Our supplier had guaranteed delivery of the beds by the end of January, but in the end we received them on February 26. The supplier did, however, keep us informed of the delivery times.” The maternity ward has now been fully functional since the end of February 2020.

“The separation of the maternity ward from the old health centre,” explains Fr. Lawrence, “has made it possible to limit the risk of contamination of mothers and infants from the rest of the patients, to have a hygienic, sanitary environment suitable for women and children, and to increase the number of beds available in the old health centre.”


Wide-ranging service


There are now 20 more beds available, both for patients and for relatives who are accompanying pregnant women. The new maternity ward, on the other hand, offers 8 beds dedicated entirely to pregnant women. “We estimate that the maternity ward will allow us to assist around 1,500 people per year – pregnant women, children and relatives,” says Fr. Lawrence. “Every day around 150-200 people come to the health centre – the sick, relatives, patients for analysis, medicine collection, vaccinations, growth control, and minor surgical operations. We offer assistance to a dozen villages in total, with over 20,000 people.”

Going forward, the Abbey will continue to have a central role in ensuring the commitment of the workforce, both monks and paid local workers, in providing maintenance to the buildings as well as for the management of the health centre itself. The healthcare personnel consists of: two doctors – one a monk, and the other a layman who lives with his family within the Abbey; three specialised nurses and six support staff. All of them are African, and the lay staff have regular salaries. The Abbey also ensures ongoing professional training for all the staff.


Amazing service


“The women who attend the health centre are almost always amazed,” says Fr. Lawrence, “because they don’t expect such a beautiful environment. Some have difficulty using a toilet with a bowl, but they all appreciate the hot showers very much.” Traditionally, young mothers are usually accompanied by their mothers or the women of the family, who stay for the whole time of hospitalisation, cooking and sleeping alongside the new mother. “This tradition is changing with the new maternity ward, but it’s not always possible to remove relatives,” he says. “We’ve set up a room in the old health centre to house at least one relative, using the old beds, and we’re evaluating a solution for relatives to eat seated at small tables near the health centre.”

The women who attend the maternity department are very happy with the environment and their treatment. New mothers are given breastfeeding and hygiene instructions before they leave. “We also give them a bottle of disinfectant produced by the Abbey, and a bar of soap,” says Fr. Lawrence. The nurses, too, are proud of their new environment and are taking exceptional care of it. Additionally, the Abbey’s tailoring workshop provides a supply of lab coats, cotton sheets, and towels. But, washing of clothes is by hand because currently the health centre still lacks a washing machine. “The staff and patients greatly appreciate the help provided by St Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony,” concludes Fr. Lawrence. “Thank you for your precious help.”

Updated on October 18 2020