Saving lives with bicycle ambulances

Josephine Mupeta lives in the Serenje chiefdom, a small community in the district of Serenje, Zambia. Josephine proudly explains, “I am a community health volunteer (CHV). I help children in my community who are sick with suspected severe malaria."

Previously, severe malaria had a particularly devastating effect in the Serenje chiefdom. “A few years ago, we had one month where ten children died from severe malaria. But since the MAMaZ Against Malaria (MAM) project* started here, not a single child has died of severe malaria, and the community is aware of the danger signs.”

One of the ways Josephine and her fellow CHVs educate their community on severe malaria is via song. Catchy and beautiful songs are accompanied by movements illustrating the danger signs.

Being a CHV is only one part of Josephine’s role in the MAM project. “I am also an emergency transport scheme bicycle rider. I have transported six children with suspected severe malaria to the health facility during this rainy season, as well as a number of women experiencing maternal complications.” Whilst Josephine makes this sound easy, the reality is that the journey would be challenging even in a 4 x 4. While the journey is arduous, the alternative would be for a parent and sick child to walk or, worse still, stay at home.

Josephine regularly receives visits from her neighbours. “Up to 15 people come to my house per day; per week I see about 50 people.” People see her as a source of knowledge, not only for malaria but for a range of illnesses. Her role is purely voluntary. She makes her living and feeds her family via her small farm.

So why, given her busy job as a farmer, did Josephine become a volunteer for the MAM project? “My elder sister died during pregnancy,” Josephine explains. “When she was in labour, there was a complication and there was no means of transport to take her to the health facility, and it was so far away.” By the time transport had been found, Josephine’s sister had passed away. “If a bicycle ambulance had been available to us at that time, my sister would still be alive today.”

“The bicycle ambulance is the best thing that has happened to this community. I see people going about their daily lives in my community who otherwise wouldn’t be alive today.”

*Implemented by a consortium of partners – Transaid, Health Partners Zambia (HPZ), and the Zambian organisations Development Data and Disacare together with MMV – the project builds on approaches successfully used in the Mobilizing Access to Maternal Health Services in Zambia (MAMaZ) and the MORE MAMaZ programmes which ran between 2011 and 2016.