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WRA Mourns the Passing of Maternal Health Champion and Former Board Member

Sep 13, 2018 | Blog, Global Secretariat, GS

White Ribbon Alliance mourns the passing of Dr. Godfrey Mbaruku, a devoted champion for maternal health and former WRA board member.

This excerpt from a profile of Mbaruku done in the Lancet in 2010, provides a glimpse of how he got his start and the passion he brought to women and children.

“As president of his secondary school science club, a career in medicine was always a possibility for Godfrey Mbaruku. Born in the Tanga region of Tanzania, in 1954, Mbaruku already had maternal health in the family—his mother was a midwife. And as the end of high school approached, his application to medical school, in Tanzania’s then capital city of Dar-es-Salaam, was approved. Even then, it was paediatric health that most appealed to him. But this changed when he was posted to a remote mission hospital in the south of the country. “Many of the patients there were pregnant women with a lot of problems”, Mbaruku told The Lancet. After 2 years, he returned to a city hospital where, a year later, he successfully applied to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology. In 1988, he was sent to Kigoma, in the remote west of Tanzania, to be the only maternal specialist for a population of 1·2 million people. It was to be the start of a fascinating two decades in Mbaruku’s career.

“At the beginning, I saw this posting as a punishment”, recalls Mbaruku, currently Deputy Director of Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute. “But I changed my mind when I saw the positive changes that were possible.” When he arrived, he met a team of underpaid and overworked junior doctors, nurses, and health workers whose morale was at rock bottom. And Mbaruku had no magic bullet. “We have to work in this situation”, he told his team. “We have no alternative.” A detailed review of hospital procedures began, including basic interventions, more training of workers on the job, and local equipment repairs. After 7 years of hard work, morale was revived and the hospital began to work better. “We put up proper schedules for admissions, equipment maintenance schedules, ensured ward rounds were done properly and on time, and that patient assessments were carried out, and gave emergency patients timely attention”, explains Mbaruku. “I also had to make sure basic hygiene procedures were followed, that the operating theatre and labs were properly maintained, and blood was available on time.”

“Godrey was one of the softest-spoken, humble change-makers I have ever met. He never promoted himself or his initiatives, but he simply DID and led by example. He will be sorely missed,” said Betsy McCallon, White Ribbon Alliance CEO.

White Ribbon Alliance was lucky to have Dr. Godfrey Mbaruku among our early advocates and will always count him among our champions.

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