The public-private partnership in Kenya is saving the lives of pregnant mothers and their babies who need to get to hospital during the hours of the current night curfew, imposed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. A tragic side-effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a spike in maternal mortality rates in Kenya, in part due to the difficulty of getting pregnant women to clinics and hospitals especially during the curfew, and in part because of the re-purposing of maternity facilities to handle Covid-19 cases.
The initiative is called Wheels for Life, and it insures that pregnant women get the medical help they need, quickly. It is a partnership between the national government, private sector companies and not-for-profit and nongovernmental organisations. Its members are the Ministry of Health Kenya, emergency coordinating company Rescue.co, taxi company Bolt, call centre company Telesky, nonprofit organisation PharmAccess Foundation (Kenya), nongovernmental organisation Amref Health Africa, and the Kenyan private sector healthcare representative body Kenya Healthcare Federation.
Wheels for Life works as follows: the expectant mother who is in labour or has developed complications, or a family member, calls the Wheels for Life phone number, which connects them with an emergency call centre operated by Telesky. This then routes the call to a volunteer physician who evaluates the situation. If an ambulance is needed, the call is redirected to Rescue.co’s dispatch centre and an ambulance is selected and sent. If an ambulance is not required, the call is instead redirected to Bolt and a taxi is dispatched to take the mother to a maternity clinic.
Since the initiative was inaugurated on April 28, Wheels for Life has handled 3 714 calls and dispatched 60 ambulances and 198 taxis. The speed of response has, on average, helped save the lives of eight mothers every night.
Kenyan health sector early business incubator and impact investor Villgro Kenya recently awarded Rescue.co a grant award for its role in this solution to response needs created by Covid-19. “We are thrilled to be working with Villgro Kenya to extend our Rescue.co services to those most in need,” enthused company co-founder Caitlin Dolkart. “The grant will provide us funding to serve over 150 more mothers, and welcome 150 more babies into this world. This is one of those obvious solutions with unbelievable clear impact, and we will also use this funding to galvanise funding support from donors, the private sector, and the government.”
The normal process to summon an ambulance in Kenya is to phone the police emergency number. Assuming you get through – and the number often doesn’t work – the police dispatcher then has to connect the caller to an ambulance company (nearly all ambulances in Kenya are operated by the private sector), but often this requires the police dispatcher to call a series of ambulance companies until he finds one with an ambulance available.
And once an ambulance is found and dispatched, lack of navigation systems means that the ambulance drivers often get lost. As a result, the average time for an ambulance to reach a patient in the national capital of Nairobi is two hours.
Rescue.co is specialist company which was set up to provide a far more efficient alternative to this situation. It links people in need to a network of ambulances, first responders and fire stations, using professional medical dispatchers, on a ‘24/7’ basis, in Nairobi. It now coordinates and dispatches the biggest network of ambulance providers in Kenya.
Under normal circumstances, Kenyans subscribe to Rescue.co’s service at a cost of 200 Kenyan shillings a month. Outside the company’s network, ordering an ambulance would set a Kenyan back by between 3 500 shillings (about $35) and 8 500 shillings (about $85) each time. The company uses an app called Flare, developed by local enterprise Capsule, which allows the identification of the ambulance that can most quickly reach the patient. The ambulance drivers in the network are all equipped with smart phones and use Google maps, so that they do not get lost.