Monday, April 30, 2018

It's Our Turn To Sing; A reflective piece on the role of the Tanzania diaspora by Dr. Frank Minja

“Why does a bird sing?”

H. E. Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao posed this question in her keynote address at the Diaspora Council of Tanzanians in America (DICOTA) Health Forum on the Role of Tanzania’s Diaspora in Enhancing Healthcare (Engagement | Awareness | Action), held in Greenbelt, MD on November 11th , 2017. The #DICOTAHealth Forum brought together over 130 delegates from across America and Tanzania, involved and interested in the various ongoing projects and opportunities in healthcare in Tanzania. The stories, experiences and insights shared at the Forum were just incredibly inspiring. Many of us came to the same realization that we are woefully ignorant of the successes and struggles of others, trying to accomplish similar goals in the same regions, and sometimes even the same hospitals, in Tanzania! “A bird sings not because it can, but because it has a song to share”, answered H.E Ambassador Chihombori-Quao. More about the song later.

Mothers still dying in beautiful Zanzibar

Every week, an expectant mother attends a health facility in Zanzibar to deliver her baby, and both never return home. Yes, this does happen on average every single week in Zanzibar, in 2017. Indeed, the maternal mortality ratio in Tanzania today is still terrible at 578 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which is a significant improvement from 870 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990. The Sustainable Development Goals health target is 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030. These maternal death numbers are shocking for anyone who pauses enough to consider what this actually means, to each mother’s family. Yet maternal mortality is just one stubborn indicator of how far healthcare services in Tanzania still need to go. We need to look and engage beyond the traditional healthcare system of doctors, nurses, midwives, and Ministry of Health officials. We literally need to engage everyone, and most importantly ask ourselves what each of us can do to help.
“But, where exactly does one start?”, asked one of the #DICOTAHealth Forum delegates. “We start by first showing up”, I replied. When on the ground and begin to confront each healthcare challenge as an opportunity; we will use our expertise, talent and creativity to come up with viable solutions. Could it be universal pre-natal ultrasound screening (ZADIA and Pure Ultrasound)? Or more training and birthing supplies for midwives (Child Survival InternationaI)? Or engaging with young expectant mothers on social media and encouraging them to get prenatal care and deliver in health facilities (myAfyapal)? Or promoting academic excellence amongst medical students in Tanzania (Maendeleo, Inc.)? These are just a few of the solutions and organizations featured at the #DICOTAHealth Forum.

#DICOTAHealth Forum and beyond

While the #DICOTAHealth Forum was a resounding success by all measures, our work has just begun. Many of the delegates continue to engage in robust online and offline, sharing our stories and opportunities in real time. We have already amassed a database of more than 20 Tanzanian diaspora-led organizations involved in healthcare in Tanzania, and look forward to share and highlight their incredible stories of success and important lessons learned along the way.

There is no shortage of people who deeply understand and care about the healthcare issues and challenges facing Tanzania. There are also many great initiatives and funding opportunities available for this important work. What is missing is a platform, an ecosystem, for all these good people to mingle and exchange ideas, support each other, learn from each other. #DICOTAHealth Forum aspires to continue to be that special place, a vibrant platform and ecosystem, where we all meet to engage with each other on “healthcare in Tanzania.” We are actively recruiting and connecting with Tanzanian diaspora, wherever they might be. We already have several delegates on the #DICOTAHealth Forum from the United Kingdom, Tanzania, and the United States. A Distributed Network The beauty and key strength of the African diaspora is our very distributed nature, across time zones, geographical borders, citizenships, generations, history, cultures and religions – as a people, we are everywhere, all the time! Literally, one of us, is always awake, somewhere. We are a distributed network, just waiting to be activated.

The #DICOTAHealth Forum is being transformed to work in that special space “in-between” individuals and organizations, and across time-zones and geographical borders. Ideally, the platform would be at once a glue, and a catalyst – just like the African diaspora are. We aspire to bring and bind great minds together, while at the same time kindling a fire within their hearts, to move all of us into action. When we do engage together in action, our collective song will pleasantly surprise many. The #DICOTAHealth Forum also envisions a distributed network with no true central command, each node being capable of being as impactful as the next individual; and each positive action inspiring and further strengthening the entire network. We do not seek to become yet another separate organization, or even an umbrella organization. For example, from the outset, the “#DICOTAHealth Forum” WhatsApp group has at least ten (10) moderators – each with similar administrative powers to invite other delegates and modulate the online discussion. The group currently has more than one hundred individuals and is growing. Delegates include public health specialists, healthcare advocates, nurses, physicians, volunteers, parents, politicians and other citizens who care about healthcare in Tanzania.

Song, Action, Mothers

What is the connection between song, action, and mothers in Zanzibar? Simply stated, we urgently need a critical mass of the African Diaspora to sing through action, and together in harmony, for healthcare in Tanzania, and elsewhere in Africa. We believe that in doing so, many more mothers in Zanzibar will return home with their babies, who will soon grow up to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar! It is our turn to sing, because we each have a song to share.

You can follow and connect with us on social media using the #DICOTAHealth tag. Frank Minja, MD Co-Chair #DICOTAHealth Forum December, 2017 New Haven, CT

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