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Kenya Needs an Ambulance Taxi Service Like This

by Nessa Shera
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In the above image is Rehema Sanane, who had successfully given birth on 10th February 2016 to a healthy baby boy, called Setu. If it were not for the Vodafone Foundation free emergency ‘ambulance taxi’, her situation could have been entirely different, as she wouldn’t have been able to travel to the district hospital at short notice. On the date of her birth, she experienced labor pains and sudden bleeding. She visited the nearest health facility, where she was told that she was experiencing ante-partum hemorrhaging (genital bleeding), which if left untreated could lead to the death of the infant and the mother.  She dialed the Vodafone Foundation ‘ambulance taxi’ free emergency line immediately and, within minutes, she was in a community taxi on the way to the district hospital. Setu was delivered normally despite Rehema experiencing serious hemorrhaging.

Rehema could’ve been one of several hundreds of high-risk pregnant women in an area of Tanzania as big as Belgium, who are losing their babies, or their own lives in failed pregnancies, due to the lack of transportation to get to an appropriate hospital. Only 10 ambulances service the expansive area, despite a population of two million people, leading to large numbers of maternal and infant deaths. Considering that the nearest hospital is often a three-hour journey, several can’t afford to pay for the trip at such short notice.

The new toll-free emergency line, launched by the Vodafone Foundation, alongside its NGO partners Pathfinder International and Touch Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), could help save around 225 women’s and babies’ lives a month in the districts of Sengerema and Shinyanga. It has in fact, already saved up to 323 lives in a trial of the taxi service that was done late last year in a small area of Sengerema.

The program will see a network of 100 taxi drivers act like ambulances, responding to emergency calls, and taking pregnant women to the nearest hospitals. Better yet, Vodafone’s M-Pesa used to pay taxi drivers ensures payment, as well as appropriate jobs for the cab operators, while helping their community by facilitating the much needed transportation services.

Omari Mabula who has been a taxi driver for six years, became one of the ‘ambulancetaxi’ drivers as part of the Vodafone Foundation’s maternal health programme in December 2015. He has so far transported four emergencies to the hospital. When asked about the programme, he said that he was happy to be part of a programme that could help his community. Omari said that on 4 February, he transported a woman who had prolonged labour and was in so much pain that she was unable to speak. After transporting the woman to the district hospital, Omari received his M-Pesa payment but kept wondering how the woman was doing. He later found out that she had delivered a healthy baby boy via Cesarean section. Before the programme, Omari said he would sometimes drive women during pregnancy emergencies. However, he said that women sometimes did not have the money to pay him, and the free service and payment by M-Pesa makes payment more reliable.

Thanks to the partnership between Vodafone and Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation Tanzania (CCBRT), and the use of M-Pesa – CCBRT uses M-Pesa to transfer funds for a patient’s travel to hospital. As a result, hundreds of women are now receiving the treatment they desperately need. The total number of surgeries increased from 268 in 2010 when M-Pesa was first introduced, to more than 3,000 in 2016.

Pathfinder International President and CEO Purnima Mane, says: “Our work in Tanzania is a true testament to our efforts to create better health outcomes for women worldwide. As a result, we have reached more than 15,000 women and have seen a 53 percent increase year over year in facility-based deliveries….We are looking forward to this next component of our program and the support it will provide to pregnant women in Tanzania, especially those deemed high risk.”

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