When a pregnant woman or her baby has an emergency in the remote areas of Tanzania and Lesotho, their survival depends on ability of the health system to respond quickly. Some 10% of deliveries will require emergency interventions. Limited availability of ambulances and great distances between villages and hospitals are therefore significant challenges that cost lives.
One of the reasons behind the countries’ high maternal mortality rates is that healthcare systems struggle to align all the many variables at the last minute, when the obstetric or newborn emergency is already happening. With no national ambulance service, ad hoc arrangements frequently fail to respond in time, with many mothers and babies dying as a result.
Vodafone Foundation’s m-mama programme aims to save lives by ensuring a system is in place to respond quickly to such emergencies, using mobile technology to connect pregnant women to emergency transport and care when they need it the most.
M-mama has a strong network of drivers across Tanzania and Lesotho
Two apps are integral to the programme’s success. The first – the dispatcher app – is a robust system operating on a simple tablet, working either online or offline, so it can be used reliably in rural areas. “The app is critical because it contains everything a dispatcher needs to respond to an emergency,” says Lee Wells, a Senior Consultant at Vodafone Foundation, who is responsible for m-mama's design, funding and implementation.
“The app is only as good as the emergency transport system behind it, so we have to ensure there are alternatives to ambulances, as they are often unavailable. We recruit and organise an army of volunteer drivers and private cars to respond in such emergencies.”
Through the app, dispatchers can identify the exact location of the women who have called the m-mama hotline for urgent care. The villages are GPS-mapped to help ensure the efficient direction of the volunteer drivers; sometimes patients may need to be stabilised at a clinic on the way to the hospital. The app also coordinates their payment via mobile money on completion of the trip.
Individual mothers’ journeys can be tracked in real time through the app
“Certainly the dispatcher app is integral to the programme,” says Lee. “What we’re doing is trying to provide women with a systematic response if they have an emergency. And at the heart of that system is the app, which helps the dispatchers do their job more efficiently.”
This means the m-mama service reduces maternal mortality by some 30% wherever it is operating. As well as saving lives, the programme’s success also drives cost efficiencies by reducing demand on hospitals, making it sustainable by government on an ongoing basis. In Lesotho, the annual cost to the government for the national programme is less than the purchase of a single ambulance.
Another app tracks the programme outcomes and data in real time. Vodafone Foundation has provided senior politicians and health officials with access to this app, enabling them to use data to plan and target resources where they can be most effective. Crucially, it also provides evidence of the programmes effectiveness, building trust and commitment amongst key decision makers.
Senior politicians, health officials and trustees use the app to track the programme’s impact over time
“Very few programmes can provide such accurate and immediate information,” says Lee. “It means the programme can report on its activities – you can see women being transported in real time. We can then increase governments’ confidence that the programme is working and making a real impact right down to the community level.”
The app shows the programme’s impact on maternal mortality in Tanzania
A dashboard in the app shows a summary of the programme’s impact across Africa
The technology used by m-mama is being donated to the government with a view to supporting over 300,000 emergencies by 2028. By working together, we are helping to connect pregnant women and newborns to safe, effective maternal healthcare.
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