Home > News > Honouring an Early Maternal Health Hero: the Late Dr Godfrey Mbaruku
Godfrey Mbaruku

Soapbox Chief Adviser, Professor Wendy Graham shared some thoughts on her recent visit to Tanzania…

The programme and research world for maternal and newborn health was shocked to hear the news of Godfrey Mbaruku’s untimely death this past September. As a champion both within Tanzania and for other low-and-middle-income countries, Godfrey’s contribution stretched back over 30 years.

The opportunity to present a seminar on Sept 28th at Ifakara Health Institute – the work “home” of Godfrey, during a recent visit gave me a chance to look back at his contributions and to remember his ever-smiling face. The seminar focused on the opportunities and challenges to improving maternal and newborn survival in sub-Saharan Africa. The title seemed fitting for a man who acknowledged the enormity of the task – like climbing Kilimanjaro – but someone who was also able to see and seize opportunities.

Godfrey started his career as an obstetrician in Tanzania in the late 1980s, at about the same time as the start of my own journey through “lands of safe motherhood”. Looking at his various publications provided a framework for my talk with three main themes: progress has been made but is fragile; the challenges are new ones and old ones, and there are opportunities for accelerated progress.

It was remarkable to see how Godfrey had been at the forefront of many of the initiatives and controversies – from task-shifting, to tackling disrespect and abuse during labour, to the promotion of effective coverage. As someone passionate about the delivery of the highest quality care possible, Godfrey’s legacy now lives on through the next generation of researchers at IHI – some of whom were in attendance at the seminar.

The work of Soapbox and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical with IHI focuses on very the basis of quality – clean safe care. The official launch of the CLEAN project on Sept 27th in Dar es Salaam provided an opportunity to form a close partnership with the three participating hospitals, the regional health management team and the Ministry of Health. Over the next 6-9 months, Soapbox’s TEACH-CLEAN training package for maternity ward cleaning will be implemented and evaluated.

I would like to think that Godfrey would have wholly approved of this collaboration, and of the potential to bring real benefits the mothers and babies of Tanzania – continuing in his footsteps.