In Kenya, just like many other Sub-Saharan African countries, pregnant mothers face the grim reality of losing their babies due to a lack of proper transportation to health facilities. Salome, a 27-year-old mother is one such case. On the 23rd of May at around midnight she started experiencing labour pains and her water broke at home. Having lost her first baby, she was determined to deliver her second baby safely so she dialed 1196 and Wheels for Life sent a taxi to take her to Huruma Nursing Home.

At Huruma Nursing Home, Salome’s labour was progressing poorly, Dr. “Jane” from Wheels for Life made a call to Rescue.co at 2.04 am requesting an ambulance to transfer Salome to Pumwani Maternity Hospital. The ambulance was dispatched four minutes later and completed her transfer in 17 minutes. Rescue.co had notified Pumwani of Salome’s condition and when she arrived she underwent an emergency cesarean section which saved both their lives. 

Speaking after her delivery, Salome credited the Wheels for Life initiative for her health and that of her baby, saying, “Were it not for this initiative, I would have walked to the hospital and am not sure the baby and I would have been fine. God bless the work of your hands that you may continue to help those in need.”

The Wheels for Life initiative is a collaboration between Rescue.co, the Ministry of Health Kenya, AMREF, Bolt, Pharmaccess Foundation,  Kenya Healthcare Federation, and Telesky that seeks to get expectant mothers to the hospital during curfew hours. As part of the initiative, a call centre managed by TeleSky has been set up that routes emergency calls to volunteer physicians. Calls that require an ambulance are directed to Rescue.co’s dispatch centre while those that can be handled by a taxi are dispatched to a Bolt taxi. 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges women face to deliver their children. In Makueni County alone, there has been an increase in maternal mortality by a factor of 14,  with four deaths in one-week post-curfew versus 15 deaths in the previous year. The high numbers in mortality rates can be attributed to poor transportation and health facilities being reassigned for COVID-19 response, with some major public hospitals converting their maternity wards into Infectious Disease Units.

Since the Wheels for Life initiative began on April 28th, 2020, the team has fielded 3,714  calls, dispatched 198 taxis, and 60 ambulances. All of the women who have used this service have survived, and dozens of babies have been born. The calls have ranged in severity, with the most extreme ones being related to cord prolapses, hypertension, reduced fetal movement and distress, preterm labor, and severe bleeding pre and post-delivery. Their fast response rates have helped save the lives of an average of 8 mothers every night.

Caitlin Dolkart, Rescue.co Co-founder said the partnership with Villgro Kenya has given them the necessary support they need to continue saving lives.

 “We are thrilled to be working with Villgro to extend our Rescue.co services to those most in need. 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.”

While the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are sure to remain with us for a long time, measures like the Wheels for Life initiative promise mothers the hope that regardless of the new normal they have a partner during their journey.