Reducing maternal deaths by connecting women to emergency care

Woman with two babies

Becoming a mum is both an exciting yet daunting prospect for anyone, but imagine being miles from the nearest health facility, without access to emergency care.

In rural Africa this is the reality and 70% of all maternal deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The leading causes of maternal death and injury, such as obstructed labour and post-partum haemorrhage are entirely treatable with fast referral to emergency treatment which for most is simply unavailable.

A new emergency transport system

In 2013, Vodafone Foundation set out to tackle the issue of maternal and newborn deaths – identified as the number one health challenge by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Beginning with health worker training, infrastructure renovations and a new system for emergency transport, it was soon clear that the emergency transport system was saving many more lives and at very low cost. 

And so m-mama was born and launched on a national scale in Tanzania.


The m-mama system features a network of local community drivers in areas where ambulances are rarely available, coordinated through a simple low-cost dispatch system. With detailed referral plans for every clinic and village, the system provides fast and critical management of emergency transport.

When a patient makes a free call to the 24/7 dispatch centre, a call handler assesses their condition and, if emergency healthcare is required, uses the m-mama app to contact the nearest driver to take the woman to an identified health facility.

On safe arrival, the driver is paid instantly for the journey via M-Pesa or other approved mechanisms.

Saving more than 1,000 lives

Starting in Tanzania, where there is only one ambulance available for every 10 emergency calls, m-mama has reduced maternal mortality by as much as 38% and newborn deaths by over 40%.

It is now live in Tanzania and Lesotho and has already transported over 32,000 women and newborns to hospital.

Understanding its importance, in 2020 Vodafone worked with Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan, the President of Tanzania, to support the government to implement the first national emergency number '115’ in the country - equivalent to 112 in Europe and 999 in the UK.

Conservative estimates indicate that m-mama has already saved over 1,000 lives. From September, Tanzania alone will be able to transport over 54,000 women and babies in an emergency annually. 

Given its success, Vodafone Foundation and USAID agreed to invest in the expansion of the service to other parts of Africa. Lesotho is at national scale with Tanzania following suit this month and m-mama has been announced for Kenya too.

Affordable within local health budgets, Vodafone Foundation and partners fund all of the set-up costs with government ministries of health funding the residual costs. Once established, the government owns and operates the m-mama service, including all technology elements, within its own health system and budget.