OBJECTIVES: To describe trends in caesarean sections and facilities performing caesareans over time in Tanzania and examine the readiness of such facilities in terms of infrastructure, equipment and staffing.
DESIGN: Nationally representative, repeated cross-sectional surveys of women and health facilities.
PARTICIPANTS: Women of reproductive age and health facility staff.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Population-based caesarean rate, absolute annual number of caesareans, percentage of facilities reporting to perform caesareans and three readiness indicators for safe caesarean care: availability of consistent electricity, 24 hour schedule for caesarean and anaesthesia providers, and availability of all general anaesthesia equipment.
RESULTS: The caesarean rate in Tanzania increased threefold from 2% in 1996 to 6% in 2015-16, while the total number of births increased by 60%. As a result, the absolute number of caesareans increased almost fivefold to 120 000 caesareans per year. The main mechanism sustaining the increase in caesareans was the doubling of median caesarean volume among public hospitals, from 17 caesareans per month in 2006 to 35 in 2014-15. The number of facilities performing caesareans increased only modestly over the same period. Less than half (43%) of caesareans in Tanzania in 2014-15 were performed in facilities meeting the three readiness indicators. Consistent electricity was widely available, and 24 hour schedules for caesarean and (less systematically) anaesthesia providers were observed in most facilities; however, the availability of all general anaesthesia equipment was the least commonly reported indicator, present in only 44% of all facilities (34% of public hospitals).
CONCLUSIONS: Given the rising trend in numbers of caesareans, urgent improvements in the availability of general anaesthesia equipment and trained anaesthesia staff should be made to ensure the safety of caesareans. Initial efforts should focus on improving anaesthesia provision in public and faith-based organisation hospitals, which together perform more than 90% of all caesareans in Tanzania.