The day we saw the world’s slowest ambulance


About an hour off-road from the city of Mzuzu in Northern Malawi lies Kamwe, one of the communities that our Pregnancy Twinning programme works in. Pregnancy risks are six times higher for women in this region who are living with HIV, so we work to bring maternal health care to them, making sure they stay healthy and give birth to HIV-free children. We had been jolting down a dirt track for half an hour on the way to Kamwe when we overtook a cart pulled by two oxen and driven by a boy of about twelve.

“That’s how they get to the hospital, y’know…” our colleague Joshua remarked.

the world's slowest ox-pulled ambulance

He went on to explain how difficult and expensive transport is – you could easily live 15km from the nearest clinic and public transport doesn’t stretch this far off-road. Hospital birth rates are much lower for rural mums than urban mums because of the difficulty of this journey. So the villagers have started to find their own solutions; now whenever a woman goes into labour, there will be a way to get into town provided by the community… and one of those ways is the trusty ox-cart.

Looking back I saw the cart, now in the distance but still moving at 2mph. I imagined it also towing a mum in labour – how she’d be concentrating on her breathing and counting the seconds between contractions while travelling in the world’s slowest ambulance. I thought, surely this is the most bizarre labour transport story I’ll hear today. But no…

The Chief’s scooter


Hours later I was sat on a bench across from the 72 year-old Chief of the district. He was seated in a rusted hospital chair – its back legs wedged into the ground, with front wheels lifted into the air. He solemnly told us stories about expectant mums delivering on the roadside on their way to the hospital or in their own one-room homes alone at night time; how many of the expectant mums were already sick from living with HIV and were sometimes too weak to pull through from a difficult childbirth. He told us of the many maternal deaths he knew of in his district, and of the one he had witnessed.

Lastly, he told us that over recent years, all this has changed. In Kamwe, maternal deaths have now completely stopped happening.

He attributed this change to three things: the presence and help of our Mother Buddies, the village women completely adhering to their advice on HIV treatment and antenatal care, and lastly to his very own 1970s Yamaha scooter…

The village’s efforts to provide transport in emergencies even extended to the Chief, who proudly showed us his blue scooter parked in the shade of a nearby tree. This humble 50cc engine had been to the rescue of many a pregnant woman.

“The first time it was 2am,” he told us. “One of my farmers had run to my house calling out that his wife, Bertha, was in labour. I rode to their house and she climbed onto the back of the bike. Waters broken and contractions getting close, we drove to the clinic in the pitch black.”

They arrived at the nearest clinic 25 minutes later. Having been chauffeured by the Chief on a scooter older than she was, Bertha was handed over the the midwife who safely delivered her firstborn baby, a boy.

The gift of a lift

Not all of our supported communities have these arrangements to provide for their mums-to-be, and nationwide the leading cause of maternal deaths rurally are delays caused by transport difficulties – delays accessing antenatal care and delays getting to the clinic in labour. It’s astounding that something so easy to fix causes so many tragedies.

This Christmas, we want to tackle this issue for mums across Malawi by covering cost of a transport service in other communities so that all of the expectant mums we support can make the journey to life after birth. 

Want to help? For £12, you can buy somebody an alternative Christmas gift this year – a lift to the hospital for a woman like Bertha! 

Find out more and give the gift of a lift here >>

The Chief and his scooter

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