Volunteering to save the lives of mothers and babies in Tanzania

Daleen Noor (Second from the left, kneeling) is helping Totohealth save lives of expectant mums and newborns in Tanzania and Kenya.

Daleen Noor CPA has helped a life-saving infant and maternal health service in Tanzania set its strategic goals for the next five years.

By Candice Chung

On her first night in East Africa’s Tanzania, Daleen Noor CPA recalls being struck by the vast expanse of darkness. “I was staying in a small town, so there were no lights on the streets. Everything was pitch black after sunset.” The 38-year-old had just arrived in Moshi, a neighbourhood in the Kilimanjaro region, where she would spend the next three months on a volunteer project for Totohealth – a not-for-profit that aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

After 10 years in the United Arab Emirates, as the finance director at private financial services firm ADS Securities, Noor decided to do some volunteering before going home to full-time work.

“I’ve reached a point of my life where I feel like all of my work has been driven by profit and numbers, and it’s not really adding any value to the real world, so I thought it was time to do something outside my comfort zone,” says Noor, who hails from Melbourne.

A chance discussion with a friend prompted Noor to get in touch with Accounting for International Development (AfID), an agency that  arranges volunteer work for accounting professionals. 

Soon she was recommended for various projects but, impressed by Totohealth’s vision, she packed her bags and headed to Tanzania.

Founded in 2014 in neighbouring Kenya, Totohealth launched in Tanzania last year after it won a £10,000 grant in the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation and raised US$140,000 in investment.

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Totohealth sends text messages with important information to new and expectant mothers, including health advice, vaccination reminders and warning signs of pregnancy complications or child health problems. 

Noor’s task was to help the social enterprise create a five-year business plan and clarify its strategic goals. Each day, she would spend time with different departments, guiding staff through operational processes, policies and documentation.

“They needed someone to help them understand how their costing works, how to budget, how to forecast their cash flows and deliver their product in the best way possible,” she says.

On one of the walls of the Totohealth office are printouts of text messages from women – mini thank-you notes describing how helpful they have found the service: “A reminder of the little things that make a difference,” says Noor.

Outside of work, Noor has rubbed shoulders with the locals and picked up some basic Swahili. “I’m half African by origin, but I’ve never had the opportunity to explore [my cultural roots]. This is something I’ve always wanted to do – to forge a closer connection by being in the region,” she says. “On a professional level, it’s a rewarding feeling to know ... the products we’re providing and selling are actually helping women to have a safer birth – it’s something that’s definitely more tangible than preparing financial statements.”

Noor was on the final week of her stay when she spoke with INTHEBLACK. Once home, she plans to provide the company remote support and consultation. “To me, this is the kind of work I do for a living – being able to help out using my skill set is a meaningful way of giving back.” 

The role of Totohealth

The World Health Organization says 99 per cent of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth complications occur in developing countries, but these cases can be avoided if women have access to qualified health workers and proper clinics. 

To help reduce this statistic, healthcare start-up Totohealth has developed a two-way mobile messaging platform that sends healthcare alerts and information to more than 37,000 registered users. Patients can also send questions to qualified specialists about their pregnancies (including the birth process), and the health of their children under the age of five. 

In addition, Totohealth provides delivery kits to expectant mothers to assist with the birth. Already operating in Tanzania and Kenya, Totohealth plans to cover greater East Africa in the near future.

Read next: Using accounting to help children

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September 2017
September 2017

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