You are here

October 9 2019. It was raining as the “Afya Bora” was launched on to the waters of Zanzibar, but nothing could dampen the mood.  After two years of consultations with the Ministry of Health (MoH) Zanzibar, the Zanzibar Maritime Authority, and UNFPA Procurement Branch, Copenhagen, the ambulance boat – the first of its kind – had arrived in Zanzibar from Sri Lanka and was ready to go into action.

With UNFPA Tanzania’s support, and with funding from the Government of Canada as part of the Afya Bora project, Jacqueline Mahon, UNFPA Representative in Tanzania, officially handed over the boat to Hon. Hamad Rashid, Minister of Health, Zanzibar, at a colourful ceremony attended by, among others, Shamata Shaame, Deputy Minister, President's Office Regional Administration and Local Government offices, high-level officials from the MoH, Zanzibar, and development partners. The launch of the ambulance boat is part of the Hakikisha Uzazi Salama Campaign – with its clearly articulated five-year roadmap – which sees the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar ramp up efforts to end preventable maternal and newborn mortality.

The ambulance boat is part of UNFPA Tanzania’s wider support to Zanzibar to strengthen effective referral systems for pregnant women experiencing complications.

The ambulance boat will be stationed in Chake Chake, Pemba Island – one of the main islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago – and will serve the small surrounding islands of Kojani (Wete District), Makoongwe and Kisiwa Panza (Mkoani District), Fundo, Njao, Uvinje and Kokota. It’s primary purpose: to strengthen referral systems and transport women experiencing complications during pregnancy to the facilities at Wete District (Pemba North) and Chake Chake and Mkoani Hospitals – all equipped to provide comprehensive, emergency obstetric and newborn care.

Fundo Island – located to the northwest of Pemba – has one primary health care facility that serves the island’s population as well as the inhabitants of the smaller islets of Nijao, Uvinza and Kokota.  A shortage of skilled personnel on Fundo means that women who need emergency care during pregnancy currently have to make the sometimes perilous journey to Wete District Hospital, using community transport, which can take two hours or more. The ambulance – manned by KMKM, a special force from the navy, staffed by health care providers trained to provide basic emergency care, and equipped with 500kg  of medical equipment – will be able to make this journey in less than half the time. Personnel on board will also liaise with special coordinators at Wete District, Chake Chake and Mkoani Hospitals to let them know that they are on their way.

The Government of Zanzibar is committed to tackling preventable maternal and newborn mortality and while progress is evident, Hamid Rashid, speaking at the ceremony, said that the current maternal mortality rate of 191 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births remains unacceptably high.  Putting a reliable transport system in place is indispensable to addressing one of the significant contributors to maternal mortality – delays in seeking emergency care, and is part of UNFPA Tanzania’s wider support to Zanzibar to strengthen effective referral systems, both on land and at sea, to ensure women and children access emergency health care in a timely manner.

The launch of the ambulance boat comes as UNFPA Tanzania continues along the road to the ICPD25 Summit in Nairobi in November.  The Summit, a high-level event convened by UNFPA, together with the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, will seek to mobilize the political will and financial commitments urgently needed to realize the visionary Programme of Action agreed by 179 governments in 1994 at the International Conference on Population in Cairo, and will see efforts redoubled to reach those who have been left out or left behind.