Mbile app helps save lives in Tanzania

When Regina George began experiencing excruciating labor pains shortly before she was due to give birth last May, she headed for the Usanda dispensary near her home.

She realized when she arrived that the hospital could not provide the care she badly needed. Health care workers referred her to a hospital in Shinyanga, a larger town about 27 kilometers (17 miles) away.

“I was experiencing stomach pains. The doctor told me that my stomach was bigger than my body … because I was pregnant with twins,” she told the Anadolu Agency.

Despite the pain and severity of her situation, and no money to pay for transport, George had no other option but to walk home.

“By the time I reached the town center, a community driver spotted me and saw I was in pain. He immediately took me directly to Shinyanga Referral Hospital,” she said.

“I spent three days there and was in labor for a long time, but the babies were not coming,” she said

After a long and arduous labor, doctors performed an emergency Caesarean section operation, and Regina gave birth to two twin boys.

“I am very thankful to the driver, especially because I had no money to pay,” she said.

Tanzania has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates at 556 deaths per every 100,000 expecting mothers, according to 2016 data from the National Bureau of Statistics. While the majority of people in the East African country reside in rural areas, essential health services such as hospitals are far away.

-Emergency transport

In a bid to connect pregnant women in some of the remote parts of Africa to emergency care, to save lives, and often their babies, the British-based Vodaphone Foundation is implementing a project dubbed m-mama to help rural women get badly needed transport assistance.

Under the initiative, a pregnant woman who needs assistance, calls a toll-free number to connect to a trained dispatcher who remotely locates her using the m-mama app.

After a quick assessment, the dispatcher arranges free emergency transport — an ambulance, if one is available, or a local registered driver to take the patient to a hospital.

With ambulances in short supply in Shinyanga, residents often use alternative transportation where the driver is paid upon service delivery by Mpesa mobile money app.

“Many women don’t have the money for transport during these situations and I was not aware of the program, but am very thankful because if the driver didn’t stop I could have lost the babies,” said George.

Since 2013, the company has worked in partnership with the Touch Foundation to connect mothers to health care in rural Tanzania, where almost half of all women giving birth at home do so without the care of a skilled health worker. Mothers and newborns die from treatable birth complications due in part to weak health systems and delays in accessing care.

To date, m-mama has helped to reduce maternal mortality in the Lake Zone regions of Tanzania by 27%.

-How it works

The program, which aims to address complications as quickly and effectively as possible, uses a network of taxi drivers to act as ambulances in areas where they are rarely available.

When patient makes a free call to a 24/7 dispatch center, a call handler assesses the patient’s condition using the m-mama app, which indicates whether the patient needs to be transported to a health facility.

If health care is required, the nearest taxi ambulance driver is identified on the app and receives a request to take the woman to the closest health facility.

Vodafone Foundation Director Andrew Dunnet said the pioneering service has provided much-needed emergency care for thousands of high-risk pregnant women and demonstrated the power of mobile technology to effect health systems.

“The ambulance taxi program is a highly efficient and a cost effective solution for countries with low income, high maternal mortality and limited transport to treatment,” he said.

He urged African governments and aid agencies to mobilize resources to replicate the service in other areas.

Since 2019, Christian Mbuligwe, 28, who is employed by the Vodaphone Foundation, has been using the m-mama program in Tanzania to transport women in obstetric crisis to health care facilities when other emergency transport are not available.

Having completed a training with program delivery partner, Touch Foundation, Mbuligwe acquired skills and could safely transport expecting mothers to a hospital.​​​​​​​

-Right to quality care

In September 2020, the company announced a new partnership with the Lesotho Ministry of Health to expanded the program and to help tackle the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.

In Tanzania, m-mama has helped transport 8,800 high risk women and 1,950 newborn children to hospitals in the past five years.

The expansion could provide life-saving care to 8,500 pregnant women and their children in the next four years in Lesotho.

Vodafone Foundation is committing $28 million to expand its m-mama ambulance taxi program beyond Tanzania for the first time to Lesotho and other sub-Saharan African countries.

Source: Anadolu Agency

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