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Vodafone Foundation announced this week that they are committing US$28 million to expand its m-mama ‘ambulance taxi’ programme beyond Tanzania to Lesotho and other sub-Saharan African countries.

The programme, named m-mama, will initially expand to Lesotho, with a co-investment of US$4.5 million (€3.8 million) by the Foundation and the Government of Lesotho, to introduce m-mama across the country through the Ministry of Health.

Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer for Vodafone Group and a Vodafone Foundation Trustee said: “Vodafone Foundation shares the commitment of the Government of Lesotho to reduce maternal mortality and contribute to the UN’s health goal. Our long-term investment of US$28 million to expand m-mama within sub-Saharan Africa will save the lives of thousands of women through an emergency service that governments can afford to sustain.”

Hon. Motlatsi Maqelepo, Lesotho Minister of Health said: “The Government of Lesotho is proud to partner with Vodafone Foundation on this groundbreaking project to save the lives of thousands of women and children in Lesotho from maternal deaths. This is a reflection of the Government of Lesotho’s commitment to improving not only the quality of life of the women and children, but that of preserving this nation for years to come.”

m-mama showed its mettle

The Vodafone Foundation said in its statement that the maternal mortality rate in Lesotho is six times higher than the UN’s 2030 target, with 487 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning close to 272 women die every year in pregnancy or childbirth. The programme could potentially save 200 lives over the next four years alone, the organisation said.

Citing Tanzania as a case study, Vodafone noted that in the first two districts where m-mama operates in Tanzania (Sengerema and Shinyanga), which cover an area larger than Belgium, research showed that the programme reduced maternal mortality by 27%.

“8,800 high-risk pregnant women and 1,950 newborn children were transported to hospital in this way, equivalent to three times the number of emergencies transported prior to the service’s inception in 2015,” the Foundation said.

How programme works

M-mama emergency services started in 2015 in Tanzania. The programme provides a toll-free number and 24/7 call centre to connect women who experience complications in pregnancy, labour, or with a newborn, to either an ambulance or to a fleet of ‘ambulance taxis’.

Local taxi drivers are trained to handle the transportation of obstetric emergencies, and given the equipment they need to get patients safely to hospital. When a woman in distress telephones a free 24/7 call centre, either an ambulance or the nearest ambulance taxi is dispatched.

The ambulance taxi driver is identified through the m-mama mobile app and then paid electronically using M-Pesa. once safely at the hospital, at no cost to the women being transported.

Part of the big picture

Vodafone Foundation and Vodafone Group said they have made a long-term sustained commitment to support maternal health through a number of programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2010, Vodafone Foundation has managed over US$24 million (€20.3 million) of philanthropic investment with over 1 million women, girls and babies receiving lifesaving treatment, transport, medical care and health education, the organisation said.

The statement said that the work between Vodafone Foundation and the Government of Lesotho will build upon the successful handover of the M-HIT mobile clinic programme, which was established by Vodafone Foundation and partners and then taken over by the government in 2018.

The programme brought basic primary health care and paediatric HIV services to 200 villages, providing 57,000 children with primary health services over three years and leading to a 160% increase in HIV testing, diagnosis and uptake of life-saving treatment. The programme will now provide long term support to those communities through the support Government of Lesotho.

The announcement did not elaborate on the details of its expansion plans in other sub-Saharan African countries.

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