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Lifesaving maternal and newborn emergency transport system ‘m-mama’ expands to Malawi

20 Sep 2023Vodafone Foundation news
7 minute read
  • m-mama in Malawi would provide lifesaving emergency referral and transport system for over 12,600 pregnant women and new-born babies each year.
  • m-mama rolled out nationwide in Tanzania and Lesotho and was announced in Kenya in 2023.
  • More than 35,000 women and newborns already transported, conservatively estimated to have saved over 1,170 lives. In Tanzania, m-mama is demonstrated to have contributed to a 38% decrease in maternal deaths and a 40% reduction in new-born deaths.

NEW YORK / 20 September 2023 – Vodafone Foundation has committed up to $6 million to expand the m-mama maternal health initiative to Malawi over the next five years, it was announced today.

The m-mama initiative has already reached nationwide scale in Tanzania and Lesotho, and efforts are currently underway to deploy m-mama in Kenya.

Vodafone Foundation’s funding will be part of, and contingent upon, a broader $12 million seed funding package from donors and others that will go towards setting m-mama up nationwide in Malawi. The project will deliver clinical mapping of health facility capabilities and the recruitment of community drivers who can transport pregnant women and their newborns when ambulances are not available.

Once set up, the Government of Malawi can sustain m-mama on an ongoing basis for approximately $350,000 per year – less than the cost of bringing two new ambulances into the health system.

Joakim Reiter, Chief External & Corporate Affairs Officer for Vodafone Group and Vodafone Foundation Trustee said: “Today’s announcement builds on Vodafone Foundation’s long-term, US$30 million-dollar commitment to expand m-mama within sub-Saharan Africa, helping to save the lives of thousands of women through an emergency service that governments can afford to sustain. Partnering with USAID for the last decade and alongside other partners and governments, we are committed to real-world solutions that are proven to reduce maternal and new-born deaths.”

Launched by Vodafone Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2013, m-mama is an emergency referral and transport system affordable to governments that connects women and newborns in rural areas with timely transportation to quality healthcare.

70% of the world’s maternal deaths happen in Sub-Saharan Africa, and reducing global maternal mortality is the number one health challenge identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The lack of affordable transport for emergency referrals remains a significant challenge for women and babies.

The m-mama service provides a toll-free number and a 24/7 dispatch centre to connect women who experience complications in pregnancy, labour, or with a new-born, to either an ambulance or to community drivers, typically local car owners who volunteer in advance.

m-mama has already transported more than 35,000 women and newborns, saving an estimated 1,170 lives. In Tanzania alone, m-mama has been shown to contribute to a 38% decrease in maternal deaths and has reduced newborn deaths by over 40%.

Lifesaving maternal and newborn emergency transport system ‘m-mama’ expands to Malawi

Tanzania – m-mama launched in 2013, available nationwide in 2023

m-mama launched in Tanzania’s Lake Zone in 2013 through a partnership between Vodafone Foundation and USAID in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania and other partners. With the m-mama system already covering the region of Shinyanga by 2020, and funded entirely from within local budgets, H.E. President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, requested that the system be implemented nationally.

In April 2022, Vodafone Foundation, the Government of Tanzania, and USAID committed to expand m-mama across the whole of Tanzania in direct response to the request from President Hassan. Vodafone Foundation and USAID committed US$15 million for the Tanzania expansion (Vodafone Foundation US$10 million and US$5 million from USAID), with the Government of Tanzania committing to covering all transport costs and providing all dispatch staff.

The Government of Tanzania provided m-mama with the first national emergency number '115’ in the country - equivalent to 112 in Europe and 999 in the UK. As of September 2023, the m-mama system covers all of Tanzania and Zanzibar at an annual cost to the Government of Tanzania of less than US$2 million whilst providing 54,000 emergency transports each year.

Lifesaving maternal and newborn emergency transport system ‘m-mama’ expands to Malawi

Lesotho – m-mama launched in 2019, available nationwide in 2023

m-mama expanded to Lesotho in 2019 through a US$4.5 million investment by Vodafone Foundation. Lesotho has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world - six times higher than the UN’s 2030 target, with 487 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning around 272 women die every year in pregnancy or childbirth.

Vodafone Foundation established a national dispatch centre to cover all ten districts of Lesotho. The Government of Lesotho committed to provide all dispatch staff and 100% of the ongoing costs as the system reached national scale in early 2023. The rural mountainous topography meant that in addition to community drivers using their cars, riders with horses and those with boats have been recruited and organised to provide emergency transport from remote communities beyond the road network.

The m-mama system will cost the Government of Lesotho up to $130,000 per year – less than the cost to purchase, staff and run one ambulance. It will provide an estimated 1,500 emergency transports each year and will enable Lesotho to massively reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths in the coming years.

Lifesaving maternal and newborn emergency transport system ‘m-mama’ expands to Malawi

Kenya – m-mama announced in 2023

In June 2023, m-mama was announced in Kenya through an US$18 million investment from Vodafone Foundation, USAID, Safaricom and M-Pesa Foundation together with other partners. This co-funding partnership with the Kenyan Government aims to launch in early 2024 and is intended to reach 100% of the women needing the service.

How does m-mama work?

In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no national ambulance service. If ambulances exist at all, they cover vast geographies and are often out of fuel, broken down or otherwise unavailable to rural women and babies at the point of need. As a result, women and babies are dying in rural communities or health facilities for lack of basic emergency transport.

The m-mama programme is designed to address this challenge. Women experiencing complications in pregnancy, labour or with a new-born make a free call to a 24/7 dispatch centre, where a trained health worker assesses their condition. If emergency healthcare is required, the m-mama app contains all the pre-loaded information on ambulances, drivers, health facilities and clinical decision making.

The app prompts the dispatcher to contact the closest ambulance or community driver, who finds the women or baby and transports them an identified local health facility for stabilisation and then to a higher-level health facility for treatment. For the first time, the referral of the patient is managed from start to finish using pre-existing transport and clinical plans, reducing the time to reach treatment and care.

The m-mama app operates on a simple tablet either online or offline, enabling dispatchers to quickly find transport and then to call ahead to ensure appropriate care is available at the destination. Preparation is done in advance, with detailed referral plans mapped via GPS for every clinic and village to ensure the system delivers fast, critical management of emergency transport.

On safe arrival, the driver is paid electronically for the journey via mobile money transfers such as M-Pesa or other approved electronic mechanisms, and at no cost to the women being transported.

m-mama is designed to be affordable and scalable within local health budgets. Vodafone Foundation and partners fund all the set-up costs, with government ministries of health funding the residual costs, such as dispatch staff, transport costs, IT and training drivers. Once established, governments own and operate the m-mama service, including all technology elements, within their own health system and budget.

Vodafone Foundation and Vodafone Group have made a long-term sustained commitment to support maternal health through programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2010, Vodafone Foundation has managed over US$24 million (€20.3 million) of philanthropic investments in this space with over a million women, girls and babies receiving lifesaving treatment, transport, medical care and health education.

Lifesaving maternal and newborn emergency transport system ‘m-mama’ expands to Malawi

Notes for Editors

About Vodafone Foundation

Vodafone Foundation (UK registered charity number 1193984) believes the power of connectivity can change lives and address some of the world’s most pressing problems. Founded in 1991 with a simple mission to invest in the communities in which Vodafone operates, today the charity connects people and ideas with technology and funding, to help those already doing good work to achieve results faster, more cost effectively and with a bigger social impact. Through a strategy of Connecting for Good, Vodafone Group PLC’s philanthropic arm works in partnership with other charitable organisations and NGOs to create solutions that bring about long-term sustainable change and improve lives.

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