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Ethiopia’s Free Rural Ambulance Service ‘Halves’ Pregnancy-related Deaths

FILE - Mebrit Kasua and one of her children at her home in the Tigray Province of northern Ethiopia. A new study says a newly launched national ambulance service has halved pregnancy-related births in the country.

A free national ambulance service offered to rural Ethiopians has reduced the number of pregnancy-related deaths in the country by a half.

Writing in the Journal of Global Health, researchers from Umeå University in Sweden say the “cost-effective” service could serve as a model for other Sub-Saharan African nations.

"Despite major international concerns around maternal health and efforts to bring up institutional delivery rates, little attention has been given to the need for logistical solutions that bring African women to delivery centers fast," says Peter Byass, epidemiologist at Umeå University and co-author of the article. "The halving of pregnancy-related deaths that we saw coincided with an increased availability of free ambulance services in Ethiopia suggests that similar services could be a key innovation for improving maternal and infant health throughout Sub-Saharan Africa."

The ambulance program, which is run by the Ethiopian government and started with an initial investment of $50 million, is offered in every rural district, operating 1,250 four-wheel drive ambulances 24 hours per day, every day of the week.

To reach their conclusions, researchers compared pregnancy-related deaths in six randomly selected rural regions of Ethiopia.

Areas where the ambulance service was used heavily had a pregnancy-related mortality rate of 149 per 100,000 live births, compared to 350 per 100,000 in regions where the service was not used.