Charities in Tanzania have set up a pioneering ambulance taxi service, backed by Vodafone’s M-Pesa mobile payments service, to help save the lives of pregnant women in rural parts of the country.
The service will operate in two districts of Tanzania, Sengerema and Shinyanga. Together, the districts are approximately the same size as Belgium, but have only 10 ambulances between them.
Because of this, every year as many as 2,700 high-risk pregnant women either do not survive childbirth or lose their babies as they are unable to attend hospital.
In response, the charities have set up a toll-free emergency line that will enable a network of 100 taxi drivers to respond to emergency calls and deliver pregnant women to hospital. The drivers will be paid using the M-Pesa service.
A trial in 2015 in an area of Sengerema saved 323 lives. Those involved have estimated it could save 225 lives a month.
The wider programme has also seen a network of community health workers schooled in newborn and infant health and emergency obstetric care, with the help of a specially developed mobile app that identifies and lists local women at high-risk of complications in pregnancy.
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“Through our partnership with Vodafone, we have been able to reach pregnant women with behaviour change interventions and appointment reminders. We’ve also provided health facilities with everything from trainings and services to solar lighting,” said Pathfinder International president and CEO Purnima Mane.
“As a result, we have reached more than 15,000 women and have seen a 53% increase year over year in facility-based deliveries,” she added.
Transformative power of technology
Vodafone has been using M-Pesa in Tanzania since 2010, working in conjunction with government agencies and NGOs to transfer funds for transport to hospital for women suffering from obstetric fistulae.
It claims the total number of surgeries increased from 268 in 2010 to 3,000 in 2016, making the programme the largest of its kind in the world.
“Our maternal health programme is another example of the transformative power of technology. Since 2010, our ‘text to treatment’ programme has benefitted more than 3,000 women living with debilitating maternal condition obstetric fistula,” said Vodafone Foundation director Andrew Dunnett.
“This pioneering service will provide a much-needed lifeline for thousands of high-risk pregnant women in Tanzania without access to emergency healthcare.”
USAID Tanzania acting health officer director Bethany Heberer added: “Having achieved remarkable healthcare results in Sengerema, we need to consider the elements of this programme that can be replicated, taken to scale and sustained.”