Maternal Mortality and Motorbikes?

Reducing maternal mortality by 75% is the fifth Millennium Development Goal the international health community aims to accomplish by 2015.  A huge challenge in the ability to reach this goal is the large discrepancy in maternal mortality rates affecting different regions throughout the world.  “The risk of a woman dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth during her lifetime is about one in six in the poorest parts of the world compared with about one in 30 000 in Northern Europe”[1] Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest obstetric risk, with a maternal mortality ratio of about 1000 per 100,000 live births.[2] This ratio is nearly 50 times higher than what the risk is for industrialized countries.  Furthermore, the WHO reports “99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, where 85% of the population lives”.[3]

This huge gap in incidence of maternal mortality between the rich and poor countries of the world demonstrates the need for the global health leaders to scale up initiatives focusing on safer pregnancies in developing countries.  The most common complications that lead to why women die during and 45 days after pregnancy are severe bleeding (hemorrhage), infection, hyper intensive disorders (eclampsia), and obstructed labor.[4] Several of these complications are preventable through adequate medical care provided throughout the pregnancy.  One major reason why there is a lack of access to this needed care is due to the geographic layout of many sub-Saharan cities.  The hospitals are often located in an urban location that becomes essentially unreachable to women who live in rural areas and do not have access to public transportation or resources to pay for the costly trip to the health facility.

To address this issue and increase the access pregnant women have to skilled health providers and consistent antenatal care, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have started using “motorbike ambulances” as a way to provide transportation to and between health centers.  The vehicles are fitted with a sidecar bed in which a pregnant woman can sit comfortably[5] and are an innovative way to decrease the amount of unnecessary maternal deaths due to lack of access in rural areas to needed medical care in a fast and cost-effective manner.  Although much more must be done to ensure pregnant women are receiving proper medical care worldwide, it is definitely a creative step in the right direction.


[1] Ronsmans, et al. Maternal Mortality: Who, When, Where, Why. Lancet 2006: 368: pg. 1189-1200.

[2] Ronsmans et al., pg. 1190

[3] World Health Organization. Making Pregnancy Safer: Maternal Mortality. http://www.who.int/making_pregnancy_safer/topics/maternal_mortality/en/index.html (December 2010).

[4] World Health Organization. Making Pregnancy Safer: Maternal Mortality. http://www.who.int/making_pregnancy_safer/topics/maternal_mortality/en/index.html (December 2010).

[5] UNICEF. Motorbike ambulances help fight maternal mortality in Southern Sudan http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sudan_57194.html (December 2010).

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