I met Rahma shortly after my arrival in Tanzania, joined by three colleagues as visiting faculty at a teaching hospital where we’d spend the next year together. We met at the cafeteria, all attempting to find shade under the canopy from the hot, Dar-es-Salaam sun. The four of us would serve as volunteer educators in nursing, midwifery and medicine through Seed Global Health and the Global Health Service Partnership.
And the day I was introduced to Rahma Baabde – my soon-to-be-student – was also the day I was introduced to Helping Babies Breathe (HBB).
“Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) is designed to target low-resource settings like my own” explains Rahma, a Tanzanian medical student in her third year. Just after entering medical school, Rahma signed up for a neonatal resuscitation program, eager to learn – although she has since divulged that, at the time, she had no idea what “resuscitation” even meant.
In 2014, it was Dr. Esther Johnston, the first Seed volunteer at this facility, who identified the need for training in this essential skill. Working alongside faculty, Dr. Johnston began offering students training in the HBB protocol, and eventually trained twelve local students to be ‘Master Trainers’ of HBB, able to train their peers.
“As a first year medical student, I was training seasoned nurses and doctors in HBB,” notes Rahma. “I kept thinking, ‘how am I training someone who has been in this field for years?’ But I know that, while intimidating at first, training decreases neonatal mortality in Tanzania, regardless of experience.”
Two years after Dr. Johnston augmented HBB training, I watched Rahma and seven of the original Master Trainers reconvene to create a long-term vision. The group imagined an interdisciplinary team where all students graduating from the university hospital would learn HBB’s protocol, incorporating the training into curricula. They wanted to ensure that the value and teachings of HBB were passed along each year. Formalizing a student group at the university, they expanded trainings to reach beyond their university.
Their alliance is now realizing its dreams. The number of Master Trainers has more than doubled from 12 to 26. And in partnership with university faculty, more than 120 at this hospital have been trained this year alone. The Master Trainers, motivated to reach beyond their own university, trained 16 Master Trainers at another nearby university, in Dar, and those students have gone on to train over 100 of their peers, as well.
The HBB group here is unique for more than just the statistics they can boast. The group is comprised of men and women, nursing and medicine, faculty and students, and multiple cultural and religious origins. “The most amazing part is that our alliance is a student-based group with faculty there to guide us. We are partners with our lecturers and brainstorm and share ideas as equals,” explains Rahma, who was elected president of the alliance this past January.
As the academic year winds down, Rahma and I continue to meet regularly to discuss HBB. Last week, Rahma sat across from me in my office during one of our meetings and, reading her email, looked up suddenly and exclaimed, “Wow!” With a spark in her eye, she continued, “I just received an email that one of the students I taught last month at CUHAS was able to resuscitate a newborn in the hospital, and helped to teach the staff at the hospital how to correctly perform the resuscitation.” Beaming as she spoke, her broad smile framed by her black hijab and trendy blue rimmed glasses, she said, “I feel so proud. My students are doing so well.”
“Me too,” I thought.
Blog by Olivia Kroening-Roche, with Rahma Baabde.
Olivia Kroening-Roche is a certified nurse-midwife and visiting guest lecturer in midwifery in Tanzania this year. She is passionate about teaching women’s health in the classroom and promoting women’s rights in the world.
Rahma Baabde is a third year medical student in Tanzania. She is passionate about humanitarian activities and is highly interested in maternal and child health issues.