|Marie Tounkara’s newborn boy, a few minutes after birth, is alive thanks to a UNICEF-supported motorcycle ambulance.|
By Fatoumata Thiam Diallo
KISSIDOUGOU, Guinea, 22 June 2009 – With the help of a motorcycle ambulance, Marie Tounkara was rushed to the emergency room to give birth to her baby boy. It was a close call, as she required a caesarean section to save the baby’s life.
“I am very tired, and I have pain, but I am alive and so is my boy,” said Marie. “I am happy and grateful to the motorcycle driver.”
It is likely that Ms. Tounkara’s baby would not have survived had it not been for the motorcycle ambulance that was able to retrieve her from a remote village and deliver her to the Kissidougou principal hospital.
Many of the remote villages in Guinea lack proper roads, and cannot be directly accessed by cars or trucks. For this reason, motorcycle ambulances – with attached wagons – have become vital in helping villagers reach hospitals for critical, emergency care.
The MURIGA programmes
The motorcycle ambulance service began in 2008 as part of the more expansive maternal health programmes – mutual health insurance organizations known as MURIGAs.
Set up by the government of Guinea, in collaboration with UNICEF, the MURIGAs are community-based insurance programmes that, for a very small annual fee, help pay the maternity costs of expecting mothers.
In 1997, the first MURIGA programme was founded in the central Guinean city of Dabola, where high maternal mortality rates were being reported. The project was so successful in the area that the government asked UNICEF to extend it to other areas in need.
Inspiration for the motorcycle ambulance
It was during a field visit to the Kissidougou region that a UNICEF communication officer saw firsthand the difficulties that the villagers had in travelling to a principal hospital to receive proper care for complicated pregnancies. As a football lover, he thought about the motorcycles that pick up injured players from the field and proposed the idea of the motorcycle ambulance.
|Motorcycle ambulances, like the one pictured, are saving lives in remote villages that are not accessible by cars or trucks.|
Now, people who are registered in the MURIGA system are automatically eligible for the use of the motorcycle ambulances.
“I am so thankful to UNICEF and the motorcycle driver who brought my girl to the hospital on time, and to all the doctors who took care of her,” said Marie Tounkara’s mother, sitting next to her daughter’s hospital bed.
It is because of such successes that UNICEF in Guinea is working to extend the motorcycle ambulance service to all of the areas that need it.
Dan Newbower contributed to this story from New York.