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Vodafone Foundation, govt in ambulance taxis project

Nthatuoa Koeshe

THE Vodafone Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Health in introducing an “ambulance taxi” programme called M-mama to help reduce maternal mortality.

M-mama, is a medical transport system that utilises mobile technology to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality rate.

The partnership was formalised on Friday at Vodacom Park by Health minister Motlatsi Maqelepo while Vodafone was represented by Vodacom managing director Philip Amoateng.

The Vodafone Foundation is a United Kingdom registered charity which allocates Vodafone Group Plc, funds to projects around the world that are run in partnership with other charitable organisations and non-governmental organisations. The Vodacom Group, which holds 80 percent shareholding in Vodacom Lesotho, is a subsidiary of Vodafone Group Plc.

The Vodafone Foundation, the government and other developmental partners have collectively committed M80 million to the project to roll out M-mama across the country.

M-mama was started in Tanzania in 2015 with the support of the country’s government and other partners.

It provides a toll-free number and 24 hours daily call centre to connect women who experience complications in pregnancy, labour, or with a newborn baby; to either an ambulance or to a fleet of ambulance taxis.

The taxis are operated by local drivers who are trained to properly handle the transportation of obstetric emergencies and given the equipment they need to get patients to hospital safely.

A woman in distress just needs to contact the call centre for free and either an ambulance or the nearest ambulance taxi is identified.

The driver is identified through the M-mama mobile app then paid electronically using the M-Pesa mobile money facility, at no cost to the women being transported.

Addressing guests at the ceremony, Mr Maqelepo said the government was committed to reducing maternal mortality and were excited by the opportunity to work with Vodafone Foundation on a system that would save the lives of Basotho women and babies.

“We are excited to start M-mama because it is well suited for the rural areas of Lesotho, combining mobile connectivity and basic transport to bring women and babies to the care they need in an emergency,” Mr Maqelepo said.

M-mama program manager, ‘Mareitumetse Sefako, said the programme would help women who experience complications in pregnancy, labour, or with newborn babies.

She said the project is expected to reduce the mortality rate and neonatal mortality by helping women get professional health assistance faster.

“Every year, about 272 women in Lesotho die due to complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. The rate of maternal mortality in Lesotho, at 618 per 100 000 live births, is still among the highest in the world, despite improvements since the past decade.”

She said the expansion could provide lifesaving care to 8 500 pregnant women and their children over the next four years in Lesotho, potentially saving 200 lives.

Mr Amoateng said Vodafone Foundation would establish three call centres to cover the entire county 24 hours daily and would provide technical expertise to get the system up and running.

“The government is committing health staff and… ensure that the programme is entirely sustained within existing health budgets over the next four years when it could provide lifesaving care to around 8 500 women,” Mr Amoateng said.

Joakim Reiter, the vice president of external affairs at Vodafone who is also 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 (about M464 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.”

Vodafone Foundation and Vodafone Group 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 (620.3 million) of philanthropic investment with over 1 million women, girls and babies receiving lifesaving treatment, transport, and medical care and health education.

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

The programme brought basic primary health care and pediatric HIV services to 200 villages, providing 57 000 children with primary health services over three years and leading to a 160 percent increase in HIV testing, diagnosis and uptake of life-saving treatment.



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