In the conventional sense, an ambulance is a specially-equipped motor vehicle, that is used to carry sick or injured people to a hospital. Joseph Nataka rides an ambulance – this time a motorbike fastened with an extension of a steel bed which is covered and is adjustable to let the mother lie on her back or sit.
It is something new and attracts attention as he carries expectant mothers to health centres in his home area of Bududa, a town in eastern Uganda.
A former barber, Nataka explains that the roads in the places where he rides are rough which makes it hard to get expectant mothers to health centres.
He is one of the volunteers that were identified by Pont, a charity organisation building a new model of development organisation providing eRanger motorbike ambulances since 2010. They are used 24 hours, providing lifesaving emergency transport to expectant mothers, the ill and injured. According to Pont’s website, by the end of 2014, they had conveyed nearly 10,000 patients, of which two thirds were maternity related.
Pont does this with a grant funding from the UK Department for International Development. Nataka operates in Bududa but the ambulances also operate in Manafwa and Mbale districts.
He was one of the pioneer riders.
“We were initially only riders but we were trained in mechanics for these ambulances. This has helped us in cases when the ambulances break down on our way to pick expectant mothers or when ferrying them to the health centres,” Nataka explains.
The 32-year-old rider has delivered both first-time mothers and says the eldest mother he has transported was 46 years old. The way it works is that expectant mothers are given phones of ambulance riders so that they call on them in case they need to visit an antenatal care unit.
“Almost every household in the area has a number of a motorbike ambulance rider so they can call the rider.
Mothers are aised to call before they go into labour pain. It is aisable that they call in time so that they are delivered at health units about five hours before they deliver. It gives ample time to the midwives to monitor them. However, sometimes locals call us when the expectant mothers have given birth,” Nataka says.
When he reaches an expectant mother’s home, he checks her condition to see if she can lie on the ambulance bed, so he stretches the mattress. If she can sit, he will adjust the seat so that she can lean. He has to act very first. He adds, “On our way, I have to keep talking to her till the health centre. We are aised to wait around just in case she is referred to another health centre.”
Tough rainy season
The ambulances are designed to help out in hard-to-reach places. However, during the rainy season, the rider says it is hard to transport expectant mothers. This is particularly in places such as Bududa where he has operated for the last four years. The ambulances break down every more often during this season and shock absorbers wear out because of the bad roads.
In Nataka’s other life, he is a barber, something he learnt when he was still a boy. He says this job guarantees him an income to save the day when he is not paid his allowances by Pont. However, he holds a diploma in tour and travel.
Infant mortality has reduced
Before the ambulances were introduced, Nataka recollects traditional birth attendants were handling expectant mothers, delivering them in the communities and it was difficult to capture numbers of such children since only official health centres register births.
“Pont carried out research and found out that many mothers were producing babies in the communities and some of them losing their lives for not getting immunised against killer diseases like polio,” the ambulance rider explains.
This motivated Pont to go out to communities and train locals as community health promoters. The numbers of mothers delivering at health centres increased as a result of the sensitisation and introduction of ambulances.
“We learn the relevance of delivering mothers in healthcare centres. In case the mother is in bad condition, she is able to be treated and taken under caesarean delivery procedure (if it is necessary),” he observes.