Marina Njelekela (MUHAS): Improving Women’s Health in Tanzania

Marina Njelekela (MUHAS): Improving Women’s Health in Tanzania

My name is Doctor Marina Alois Njelekela. I come from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. I work at Muhimbili Medical University. But also I have been the past chairlady of the Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania. The Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania is a non-governmental organization of female medical doctors who have joined together to form this organization in order to address the health issues concerning women in Tanzania. Our vision is to see healthy women in Tanzania, and our mission is through improving their health via various programs which we have designed that address women’s issues. When we were forming this organization, we thought we have to give back to the communities in Tanzania because during our time, our education has been exclusively free, and we felt the urge or the need for us to give back to the communities. So during the 21 years since this organization has been formed in Tanzania we have managed to conduct various programs that addresses health issues of women, youths, as well as children. In Tanzania we are known for one big program which is known as Breast Cancer Awareness and Screening Campaign. This is a campaign done by female medical doctors via a contribution from the government in terms of finances, as well as from well wishers across the countries who donate money to help us go through regions in Tanzania to do breast cancer awareness, as well as screening for women up to the levels of the villages. Since we have started this program we have managed to screen over 63,000 women across seven regions in Tanzania. And out of those women, we diagnosed about 152 women with breast cancer. What we did thereafter was to facilitate treatment for these women whom we have diagnosed to have breast cancer in the only cancer center in Tanzania, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute. So we are thankful to the Ocean Road Cancer Institute for instituting and facilitating treatment of all the women whom we diagnose through our campaigns. And in these campaigns, we have faced some challenges. For example, myths and misconceptions on breast cancer as well as cervical cancer is very high among women in Tanzania, and that impairs or deters them from accessing medical care because they have tended to equate diagnosis of breast cancer to be equal to death and if one is given radiation or breast cancer treatment, their lifespan tends to be very short. The Medical Women of Tanzania has worked to solve diligently and so hard to try to educate women that this is not the case. Women have to do breast self-examination on a monthly basis so that they can identify any abnormality in their breast in their earliest stage of development. Apart from breast cancer awareness screening, we have also done, in collaboration with the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, cervical cancer awareness campaigns as well as cervical cancer screening through the VIA method. As we understand, cervical cancer is the number one killer for women in Tanzania, and special efforts need to be done to address prevention of cervical cancer through HPV vaccine. The Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania has also been involved in coming forward for advocating for HPV vaccine to be given to girls in Tanzania. Apart from this program we have also been involved in another program, which is advocating for a reduction of maternal mortality in Tanzania. As women have known, the current maternal mortality rate is quite high. It is about 424 women dying during delivery per every 100,000 women. This is very high indeed and we as female medics, we feel we have a role to play in order to reduce maternal mortality rates in Tanzania. Our association is also not forgetting young girls. A girl child is an important avenue also to address when addressing women’s health issues. We are facing a problem of adolescent pregnancies, and we have gone through secondary schools to advocate for young girls to be more careful about their lifestyle and to avoid early sexual exposure, and so that they can protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and adolescent pregnancies. And during our visits in these secondary schools we also advocate for women, young women, to take science subjects so that they can become scientists in the future. We need more female doctors. We need more scientists. We need more engineers who are female. So we go around secondary schools to advocate for female students to join science subjects in the course of their studies, which will make them join medical universities as well as science degrees. So this is part of the programs which our association, the Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania, do in order to address the health of women in Tanzania. We are very hopeful that in the coming years with time as we continue our work, the health of women in our country will improve tremendously.

One comment

  1. Great work by the Medical Women Association of Tanzania. Thank you Dr. Marina Njelekela! Hope to see more talks on international public health initiatives by African physicians…very inspiring.

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