Save the Children’s boat ambulances are saving the lives of pregnant mothers and their babies in Puntland, Somalia

Thursday 2 May 2019

Save the Children’s boat ambulances are saving the lives of pregnant mothers and their babies in Puntland, Somalia


Story summary

In Somalia accessing emergency healthcare can be extremely challenging. In the coastal areas of Bari, in the north-east area of Puntland, pregnant women and sick children were facing journeys of between 8 and 36 hours to the nearest hospital in Bosaso because the roads are so bad. Recognising the challenges and the fact that many were dying because they couldn’t get treatment fast enough, our teams in Somalia have supported the Ministry of Health with 2 boat ambulances to serve the area. Now the journey to hospital takes only 45 minutes, and patients can receive first aid during the journey, giving them a greater chance of survival and recovery. Somalia needs as much help as it can get – women face a 1 in 22 risk of maternal death in their lifetime and only 38% of births are attended by skilled attendants. Our teams are on the ground are saving as many lives as possible; in 2017 we reached 1.6 million people in Somalia with basic health and nutrition services.

Seven days a week, Save the Children’s ambulance boat in Bari, Somalia, transports sick people – and especially pregnant women and children – from coastal towns to the hospital in Bosaso. This hugely reduces the time it takes to reach crucial healthcare and, in a country where women face a one in 22 lifetime risk of maternal death, often means the difference between life and death.

Saynab*’s story

Late in her pregnancy, 22-year-old Saynab* attended the Maternal and Child Health Centre (MCH) as she had high blood pressure, her face was swollen, and she complained of back pain and a headache. These could have been symptoms of a condition which could have put both Saynab and her baby’s life at risk. To make sure Saynab and her baby stayed safe, and received the best possible medical care during her labour, the Save the Children team rushed her to Bosaso hospital on Save the Children’s fully equipped ambulance boat in just 4 hours – a journey that would have taken 48 hours by road due to poor conditions.

Saynab reached the hospital just in time: she was told that the baby was in the correct position and she would soon give birth. She now has a healthy baby boy and was relieved to give birth in the safety of the hospital:“I was picked up from home, taken to Habo, nearest village available, and then we travelled by boat to Bosaso Hospital. I was brought here by a team that took good care of me, and I’m thankful for that.”

“The doctor told me that both the baby and I were healthy, that the baby was in the right position and I was going to deliver soon.” Says Saynab


Sundus Mohamed, midwife at the MCH in Habo

The first thing women ask midwife Sundus Mohamed after giving birth is, “is my baby alive?” Only then do they ask whether it’s a boy or a girl. This shocking insight indicates just how fragile life is for newborns and mothers giving birth in Somalia. This is why Save the Children has developed an innovative solution to help pregnant women and children in remote coastal communities: an ambulance boat.

At just 20, Sundus is a qualified midwife and works morning shifts at the MCH clinic in Habo, Puntland. She looks after pregnant women right through their pregnancies until they give birth. Her daily tasks include administering vaccinations, giving vitamins, checking blood pressure and doing general check-ups to make sure both mothers and babies are doing well.

“When [pregnant women] reach the last days and come when they’re in labour, we have a room with a bed where they stay overnight, and if she’s healthy and all is going well she delivers at the MCH,” Sundus explains.

There’s a lot Sundus can do at the clinic to help – such as administering injections to prevent blood clots – though where there are complications patients are referred to Bosaso hospital and taken there on Save the Children’s fully equipped ambulance boat. This was the case for Saynab, who had high blood pressure, a swollen face, and complained of headache and back ache: “We preferred to refer her to Bosaso hospital before her health goes worse as this was her first pregnancy.” Sundus went to the hospital to support mum and baby until Saynab’s healthy little boy was born.

“Save the children helped us a lot,” says Sundus. “If we’re bringing someone who’s referred from a different location to Habo MCH, we use the Ambulance car, and if we are referring the patient to Bosaso hospital we use the provided Ambulance Boat that has all the necessary medical equipment.”

In a country with one of the highest lifetime risks of maternal deaths in the world – one out of every 12 women die due to pregnancy related causes, according to UNICEF reports – Sundus’s help is very much needed, and helping women give birth safely brings her huge satisfaction. “When women give birth they always ask me if the baby is alive. When I reply “yes and it’s healthy”, they then ask whether it’s a boy or a girl. Their happiness brings me joy.”

Mohamed Abdulkadir, one of the team behind the ambulance boats:

“A lot of mothers lost their lives on the way to the hospital because of the deadly road trip. We had to find a creative way to shorten the time to reach a specialized facility. That is why we came up with the idea of a Boat Ambulance,” Mohamed Abdulkadir, Save the Children Representative for Puntland. We are hoping this boat ambulance will support in saving lives of pregnant mothers and their babies.’’

Please Note: Asterisk (*) means the name has been changed to protect identity