In Tanzania, a woman giving birth may walk for two days in search of basic medical services
In all but the largest Tanzanian cities, very few ambulances are available to respond to medical emergencies, leaving many in search of other options. The issue has become extremely difficult for pregnant women. Cars still remain a precious resource in many areas, and should a woman going into labor get the attention of an ambulance, it still might not arrive if they deem another matter more pressing than childbirth.
However, where resources are scarce, ingenuity takes over. Mobile phone carrier Vodaphone worked with officials in Tanzania’s rural Lake Zone to start a cottage industry of “ambulance taxis” which help meet the excess demand of those in need of emergency medicine.
The system works like Uber (sort of). It’s less automated, but it gets the job done. A woman will call a phone number to reach medical professionals. Should they decide the birthing mother should seek medical attention, the professionals ping a network of prevetted taxi drivers who are paid in advance using a popular payment app. The drivers then pick up the woman in need and take her to the hospital or clinic that suits her.
The service also serves as a mode of transport among medical facilities in Tanzania as well. With so many health centers lacking in basic services, patients are often treated as best they can, then sent to more comprehensive medical centers. The distance can be hundreds of miles, a trek that local ambulances can’t afford to make. Here again, the ambulance taxi service picks up the slack and transports patients.
In Tanzania, 454 women out of 100,000 die from complications during childbirth—among the highest mortality rate in the world. With so few residents living in urban centers, transport to medical care has been a profound barrier to quality care.
The new program has worked out very well both for patients, who now have access to more reliable transport, and for drivers, who—after being prescreened—earn $40 per run, with half paid up front and half paid when the patient is dropped off at the hospital.
Prior to this network of crowdsourced “ambulances,” something as routine as childbirth could require a two-day journey by foot to receive even substandard medical care. While ambulance taxis are certainly no substitute for a widespread network of EMTs and vehicles, the program is making great strides in getting basic health care to those who need it.