Mobile Technology Links Hamlet to Hospital in Rural Tanzania

Rehema Roberts with her newborn son Setu
Rehema Roberts with her newborn son, Setu.
Sala Lewis, Vodafone Foundation
Fast transport of expectant mothers saves lives
“When I knew the taxi was coming to take me to the hospital, I was no longer scared.”

January 2017—MWANZA, Tanzania—Rehema Roberts was at home when she first began feeling labor pains. Then came the bleeding. After 38 long weeks of pregnancy, Roberts knew she could be in serious trouble. With few options, she set out on foot for the nearest available health center. All she could do was hope for the best.

In emergencies like these, being able to reach a health facility can spell the difference between life and death. For millions of rural Tanzanians like Roberts, however, harsh terrain, lack of transportation, and punishing distances stand in the way. What’s more, ambulances are in short supply; in some areas, a mere handful of ambulances are tasked with serving millions.

Fortunately, the staff at Roberts’s local health center were equipped with a solution. After diagnosing her with potentially fatal antepartum hemorrhage, they called the Mobilizing Maternal Health program’s 24-hour hotline to report the emergency. After gathering basic information on her condition, the call center dispatched a local taxi to drive her to the district hospital, routing an automated mobile payment to the driver in the process. In a matter of minutes, Roberts was on her way to get the urgent care she needed.

The community-based emergency transport service highlights the power of mobile technology in improving access to health care—but it doesn’t stop there. Mobilizing Maternal Health also teams up with community health workers to deliver personalized health information and follow-up messages to pregnant and postpartum women using a mobile application. The app educates health workers and patients on common signs of danger, and sends reminders when follow-up visits and estimated delivery dates are approaching.

“My community health worker educated me a lot,” Roberts said. “She taught me about breast feeding, nutrition, and helped me make a plan to deliver at a health facility. When I started bleeding with labor pains, I knew I had to go to the health facility. When I knew the taxi was coming to take me to the hospital, I was no longer scared. My husband was with me, and I thank God I had free transportation.”

Today, Roberts is the proud mother of Setu, her newborn son who was safely delivered that day at the district hospital. She’s not alone. Since October 2015, the program has helped transport over 2,500 mothers in rural areas of northern Tanzania. All it takes is dedicated local health workers, a phone call, and a little innovation.

Mobilizing Maternal Health is a public-private partnership between USAID and the Vodafone Foundation aimed at linking community maternal and neonatal health services to district and regional health facilities. By using mobile technology to educate pregnant women, monitor and coach community health workers, and provide emergency transport, the project expects to save the lives of more than 5,000 at-risk mothers from 2013 to 2017.

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Last updated: January 09, 2017

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