In 2017, across the globe, 810 women died each day from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Women face 15 times the risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications compared with women in developed countries. In this region, over half of the women do not have access to emergency obstetric care during labor, citing financial concerns or issues with accessing emergency maternal transport to hospitals. Vodafone and Transaid are organizations working to mitigate the barriers pregnant women encounter in accessing emergency maternal transport in Africa.
During an obstetric emergency, every second a pregnant woman experiences a delay in skilled care, the higher the risks of stillbirth, neonatal or maternal death. Many cases of maternal mortality are due to severe bleeding after childbirth, postpartum infection and blood pressure disorders. All of these are preventable and treatable with timely and skilled care. Urgent emergency maternal transport to adequate health facilities can be the difference between life and death.
Accessing Emergency Maternal Transport in Africa
Demography and Health Survey data from more than 40 countries revealed that while 50% of women cite finances as the primary obstacle for seeking obstetric care and 37% reported transportation challenges. In addition, 37% cited distance to be their main barrier. Access to mobilized vehicles in developing countries is incredibly rare. For example, only one vehicle is available for every 3,000 people. For comparison, in the U.S., there is one vehicle per 1.19 persons.
A study in rural Ghana found that 65% of women use public transport, 29% walk, 4% use personal cars and 1.6% ride by motorbike. However, much of this transportation is inaccessible because of high costs. The distance to an adequate healthcare facility is highly determinant of maternal outcomes, especially in rural areas of developing countries. A study in Southern Tanzania by Lancet Global Health found that “living more than 35 km away from a health care facility has a much higher likelihood of maternal mortality compared with those only living at a distance of only 5 km.”
Even when vehicles are available and distance is not a barrier, insufficient and dangerous road systems inhibit transport to hospitals. In developing countries, poor road networks make access to skilled healthcare challenging, especially for remote, rural areas. With road conditions unsuitable for many vehicles, women have few viable options.
Effective Interventions: Transaid
Organizations involved in transportation interventions often include direct provision of transportation or monetary schemes. This eliminates the financial burden on families seeking emergency maternal healthcare. Dependent on each community, organizations tailor the intervention to best support the residents.
Transaid, in partnership with the National Union of Road Transport Workers, has implemented emergency maternal transport interventions in Nigeria for more than a decade. Transaid’s project “focuses on training and encouraging local taxi drivers to transport pregnant women to health centers.” Drivers are incentivized to volunteer because they receive permission to park in front of the loading queue. This can “potentially save many hours of waiting for passengers.” Transaid has also had a huge impact through its More Mamaz campaign in rural Zambia. The More Mamaz campaign has trained 236 drivers and safely transferred more than 3,500 women to health facilities. The percentage of women delivering at health facilities rose from 64% to 89% from 2014 to 2017.
Vodafone, a mobile technology company, working in conjunction with Touch Foundation, created the m-mama program, a mobile technology program that connects women in rural Tanzania to local taxi drivers acting as “taxi ambulances.” The 24/7 dispatch center is called in an obstetric emergency and the dispatcher skillfully assesses the patient’s condition and connects them to a network of more than 100 taxi drivers responding to emergency calls. Upon arrival at the health center, drivers receive their pay instantly via Vodafone’s mobile money transfer system. Additionally, the service has also trained over 250 community health workers in the Sengemera and Shinyanga states of Tanzania. Vodafone’s successes have led to a partnership with the Lesotho Ministry of Health in South Africa to expand this program.
The Impact of Emergency Maternal Transport in Africa
The results of interventions have been promising. When South Africa issued 18 dedicated vehicles for maternity care, there was a “sustained reduction in mortality.” Similarly, in the Gambia, a “freely available ambulance service in connection with women’s obstetric needs correlated with substantially reduced pregnancy-related mortality.”
In an effort to provide safe, timely and reliable emergency maternal transport to specialized obstetric care, organizations have shown great innovation in how they train, incentivize and mobilize communities to improve outcomes for pregnant mothers.
– Brittany Granquist