With M-Mama, more lives will be saved

Cuddling her little baby, Namnyak Laizer beams with a smile as she waits to be discharged from the hospital.

The 28-year-old had waited for this day for so long, after a couple of previous miscarriages.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mother, despite the previous losses, I was still optimistic that I would be a mother one day,” she says as she places her newborn on its back for sleep.

The journey to motherhood was not all rosy for Namnyak.

Sometimes in July last year, Namnyak experienced labor pains as she was returning home from the market at Duka Bovu area in Monduli District.

The pain was so intense for her that she had to be carried by Good Samaritans to her house.

“I was petrified, fearing the unknown as I experienced excruciating pain,” she recounts.

The soft spoken lady recalls how her husband and some of her neighbors remained clueless as she continued writhing in pain.

“There they were, not sure of what to do…it was such a horrendous ordeal.”

Namnyak remembers seeing the village chairperson walking in and out of their house.

Little did she know that Mzee Mollel, as he is fondly referred to, was making frantic calls to get Namnyak to the nearest hospital for medical attention.

After a 20-minute wait, which felt like ages for Namnyak, a car drove into their dusty compound before she was put onto it, accompanied by the driver, husband and auntie.

The 45-minute-drive drive was enough for Namnyak to find herself being wheeled into one of the labor wards at the Mount Meru Regional Referral Hospital.

“I heaved a huge sigh of relief seeing the medics coming to attention after the nightmarish one hour,” she says.

After a day of rigorous maternal care, Namnyak gave birth to a healthy baby girl, she named the baby Osiligi, which means Hope in the Maasai dialect.

While Namnyak puts the ordeal way behind her, many expectant mothers go through similar ordeals, albeit silently.

Some have ended up losing their lives as they weren’t as lucky as Namnyak.

It is for this reason that Vodacom Tanzania has teamed up with the Tanzanian government in implementing the M-Mama programme, an affordable emergency transport service that is connecting mothers and newborns to vital life-saving healthcare in the country’s rural areas.

Through the noble arrangement, Vodacom Tanzania Foundation foots 35bn/-(around $15million), 12bn/-($5mn) by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) while the government of Tanzania, through the Health Ministry provides qualified medical personnel in saving the expectant mothers.

Other partners implementing the project include Touch Foundation and Pathfinder International.

The system which kicked off in 2022 creates a network of local taxi drivers to act as ‘taxi ambulances’ in areas where ambulances are rarely available. With detailed referral plans for every clinic and village, the system provides critical management of emergency transport.

While weak health systems and delayed access to healthcare are said to be significant causes of maternal and newborn deaths, with the lack of affordable transport for emergency referrals a significant driver of poor outcomes, the M-Mama programme connect pregnant women to care when they need it the most, and so reduce maternal deaths, identified as the number one health challenge by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by as much as 38 per cent.

The system is effective as it provides coordination and management to strengthen existing healthcare and transport provision, augmenting it with volunteer community drivers when needed.

The service has so far gone live in nine regions, including Arusha, which witnessed its launch recently.

They include Lindi, Mtwara, Morogoro, Dodoma and Singida.

Others are Tanga, Manyara and Kilimanjaro.

Speaking during its launch in the region, the Regional Education Officer, Abel Tupwa exuded confidence that the initiative will restore smiles on the faces of expectant mothers in the region.

“We are very grateful to Vodacom Tanzania Foundation for this service, which I hope will lend our health workers more impetus in rescuing lives,” says Tupwa, who was represented by the Arusha Regional Commissioner, John Mongella at the launch.

According to Mr Tupwa, a total of 69,199 women gave birth in 2022, where around 5078 experienced problems while delivering.

“There were 2062 referrals and 61 maternal related deaths at that particular time, this wouldn’t have been the case if we had the M-Mama service at our disposal,” he says.

Such harsh reality goes to expose the cracks in the maternal care in the region, if the failure of ferrying expectant mothers to medical facilities was anything to go by, according to Mr Tupwa.

Through the service, when the patient makes a free call to a 24/7 dispatch centre, a call handler assesses the patient’s condition, using the M-mama app, designed for use on and off-line in rural areas.

If healthcare is required, the nearest volunteer emergency driver is identified on the M-mama app and receives a request to take the woman to an identified health facility for stabilization or treatment.

According to Sr Shubila David Mujwahuzi, a dispatcher at Mt Meru Regional Referral Hospital, the service was up and running at the medical facility, with patients making the most it.

“It is currently underway and I feel proud to have sent our mothers urgent help wherever they may be,” she explains.

Reducing maternal and neonatal mortality by addressing delays in accessing medical care has always been her calling, she says.

The Medical Officer in Charge at Mount Meru Regional Referral Hospital, Dr Frank Shega expresses his gratitude to the implementing partners for rolling out the initiative, pledging health workers’ commitment in sustaining it.

“While the government treasures and values women’s health, we wish to reassure Vodacom Tanzania and other partners that M-mama will be put to good use and serve the right purpose,” he said.

While visiting the region before M-Mama’s launch, Vodacom Tanzania Managing Director Phillip Besiimire said the much awaited service will extend a helping hand to pregnant mothers as far as emergency services is concerned.

Mr Besimiire noted that the emergency service will greatly address maternal and child care in the country.

“I’m pretty much confident that the service that will go live in March will, to a larger extent, support post delivery services,” discloses the Vodacom Tanzania MD.

During a joint press conference held at the State House in Dar es Salaam last week, US Vice President Kamala Harris hinted that USAID plans to provide another $1.3 million to support Tanzania’s response efforts, which includes M-Mama.

“And we are providing personal protective equipment to help Tanzanian responders,” she said.

In Tanzania, maternal mortality contributes to over 5 per cent of deaths among women of childbearing age, with the leading causes of death being postpartum hemorrhage, preeclampsia and anemia.

While maternal mortality rates have steadily declined from 854 in 2000 to 524 in 2017, Tanzania still has to make significant strides to achieve national and global targets.

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