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Childbirth Mortality in Mali Being Fought With Mopeds


While hospitals and doctors in Africa are few and far between, in the impoverished West African country of Mali, the government takes health care to remote villages, by way of little mopeds. A system of so-called mobile health units was recently started after officials noticed that an effort to build decentralized health centers in remote areas was not working. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from Dakar, with reporting by Julie Vandal, who caught up with a roving, health care practitioner who now travels by moped.

Starting up their Chinese-made moped, Doctor Yana Yanali and her nursing assistant Yousouf Dama set off at six in the morning on their rounds of villages around their health center in Koro, Mali.

They are the result of a new government strategy of using mopeds to take health care directly to villagers.

Yanali brings bundles of medical equipment, mosquito nets, documents about her patients.

A village celebrates her arrival with drums, song and dance.

Speaking in the local Dogon language, Yanali greets women waiting for her.

On this day, she explains, she is here to help pregnant women.

She says she gives them advice in a group and then consultations one by one.

She says she tells them it is important to make sure there is always someone who will be next to them in case of a problem.

She also says it is important for them to keep a bit of money, even if it is just $1, in case of a serious emergency.

She then takes out paperwork, before consulting with a 30-year-old eight-month pregnant woman, who already has four children.

She looks at her hair, her feet, her mouth, her teeth, her breasts, her uterus, her vagina, to see if everything is all right.

She checks the mother's pulse and determines she is healthy.

In 41 villages in the surrounding area, every day, dry or rainy season, rain or no rain, we go out and take care of the people, she says.

She also vaccinates children, looks after newborns, teaches families about safe drinking water and how to prevent malaria.

She says her health is not so great herself. She is getting tired, and she once fell of the moped, and her kidneys hurt. She also does not have a helmet to wear for her own protection on the bumpy, dusty tracks around Koro, Mali.

She says she hopes it is worth it and that her work is helping reduce the number of women in Mali who die during childbirth, estimated at one every three hours, and also helps them reduce infant mortality, which is one of the world's highest.

A previous attempt to set up more health centers in remote areas did not have much impact on improving the situation. The government says it will study later this year whether using mopeds to create these new mobile units is making a difference, and whether doctors within mobile units are really making the effort, as Yanali is.

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