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Kenya’s Wheelbarrow Ambulances Aid Women in Labor

FILE - A wheelbarrow serves as transportation for the infirm and, in a poor neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya, for women in labor. Here, a Somali man travels in Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp.

Kibera, the poorest neighborhood here in Kenya’s capital city, has countless shanties that lack basic amenities such as electricity, water and toilets.

But it also has four wheelbarrow ambulances, modified to speed pregnant women to hospitals for delivery.

The ambulances are part of a campaign to reduce maternal mortality. Last year throughout Kenya, 400 women died during pregnancy or childbirth for every 100,000 live births, according to data compiled by the World Bank. In the United States, by comparison, there were 28 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

The campaign, called "Stand up for African Mothers," is an effort by the African Medical Research Foundation. Seven years ago, the foundation started the Kibera Community Health Center in a bid to bring quality care to the area’s residents.

The wheelbarrow ambulance program aims to support women in labor who live in remote parts of Kibera.

It has four wheelbarrow ambulances, each outfitted with a battery-powered siren and bedding to provide comfort while traversing Kibera’s bumpy terrain and crowded streets. Each costs $100.

Angeline Agina, a 28-year-old pregnant woman, said the ambulance program has relieved her worries about getting to medical care when she gives birth.

"The wheelbarrow ambulance is actually good, because cars and conventional ambulances cannot access my house,” Agina said. “Once I go into labor, the wheelbarrow can be here in minutes to take me to the clinic.”

Agina is 23 weeks pregnant and religiously keeps her prenatal checkups, thanks to a subsidy from the foundation.

Getting health care on track

Wycliffe Ogenya, a Kenyan ministry of health worker, visited Agina to check on her pregnancy and conduct a simulation run with the wheelbarrow ambulance.

Ogenya said he’s responsible for promoting good health among 2,500 households in Kibera. He said it’s his job to help Kenya meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for health care.

"My role entails promoting health at the household level," and one aspect involves improving maternal health, Ogenya said. "In this case, we are looking at mothers who are expectant and we are ensuring that there are institutional deliveries."

For Agina and other expectant mothers, the wheelbarrow ambulance brigade, and the health care that comes with it, has improved their chances of a healthy delivery.