Vodafone Foundation Invests $6 Million in Maternal Health Initiative for Malawi’s Lifesaving Transportation

Vodafone Foundation commits to expand m-mama initiative in Malawi, providing vital transportation for maternal emergencies.

Vodafone Foundation has committed up to $6 million to expand the m-mama maternal health initiative to Malawi over the next five years.

The m-mama initiative has already reached nationwide scale in Tanzania and Lesotho, and efforts are currently underway to deploy m-mama in Kenya.

Vodafone Foundation’s funding will be part of, and contingent upon, a broader $12 million seed funding package from donors and others that will go towards setting m-mama up nationwide in Malawi. The project will deliver clinical mapping of health facility capabilities and the recruitment of community drivers who can transport pregnant women and their newborns when ambulances are not available.

Once set up, the Government of Malawi can sustain m-mama on an ongoing basis for approximately $350,000 per year – less than the cost of bringing two new ambulances into the health system.

Today’s announcement builds on Vodafone Foundation’s long-term, US$30 million-dollar commitment to expand m-mama within sub-Saharan Africa, helping to save the lives of thousands of women through an emergency service that governments can afford to sustain. Partnering with USAID for the last decade and alongside other partners and governments, we are committed to real-world solutions that are proven to reduce maternal and new-born deaths.

Joakim Reiter, Chief External & Corporate Affairs Officer, Vodafone Group and Vodafone Foundation Trustee

Launched by Vodafone Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2013, m-mama is an emergency referral and transport system affordable to governments that connects women and newborns in rural areas with timely transportation to quality healthcare.

70% of the world’s maternal deaths happen in Sub-Saharan Africa, and reducing global maternal mortality is the number one health challenge identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The lack of affordable transport for emergency referrals remains a significant challenge for women and babies. 

The m-mama service provides a toll-free number and a 24/7 dispatch centre to connect women who experience complications in pregnancy, labour, or with a new-born, to either an ambulance or to community drivers, typically local car owners who volunteer in advance.

m-mama has already transported more than 35,000 women and newborns, saving an estimated 1,170 lives.  In Tanzania alone, m-mama has been shown to contribute to a 38% decrease in maternal deaths and has reduced newborn deaths by over 40%.

m-mama launched in Tanzania’s Lake Zone in 2013 through a partnership between Vodafone Foundation and USAID in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania and other partners.  With the m-mama system already covering the region of Shinyanga by 2020, and funded entirely from within local budgets, H.E. President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, requested that the system be implemented nationally     .

In April 2022, Vodafone Foundation, the Government of Tanzania, and USAID committed to expand m-mama across the whole of Tanzania in direct response to the request from President Hassan.  Vodafone Foundation and USAID committed US$15 million for the Tanzania expansion (Vodafone Foundation US$10 million and US$5 million from USAID), with the Government of Tanzania committing to covering all transport costs and providing all dispatch staff. 

The Government of Tanzania provided m-mama with the first national emergency number ‘115’ in the country – equivalent to 112 in Europe and 999 in the UK. As of September 2023, the m-mama system covers all of Tanzania and Zanzibar at an annual cost to the Government of Tanzania of less than US$2 million whilst providing 54,000 emergency transports each year.

m-mama expanded to Lesotho in 2019 through a US$4.5 million investment by Vodafone Foundation.  Lesotho has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world – six times higher than the UN’s 2030 target, with 487 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning around 272 women die every year in pregnancy or childbirth.

Vodafone Foundation established a national dispatch centre to cover all ten districts of Lesotho. The Government of Lesotho committed to provide all dispatch staff and 100% of the ongoing costs as the system reached national scale in early 2023.  The rural mountainous topography meant that in addition to community drivers using their cars, riders with horses and those with boats have been recruited and organised to provide emergency transport from remote communities beyond the road network.

The m-mama system will cost the Government of Lesotho up to $130,000 per year – less than the cost to purchase, staff and run one ambulance. It will provide an estimated 1,500 emergency transports each year and will enable Lesotho to massively reduce the number of maternal and newborn deaths in the coming years.

In June 2023, m-mama was announced in Kenya through an US$18 million investment from Vodafone Foundation, USAID, Safaricom and M-Pesa Foundation together with other partners. This co-funding partnership with the Kenyan Government aims to launch in early 2024 and is intended to reach 100% of the women needing the service.

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