Kenyan doctor Jemimah Kariuki has been awarded the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General’s Award for Global Health 2021 for her initiative to help pregnant women access maternity care during the coronavirus curfew.
“Thank you so much WHO and most especially the Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom for awarding the effort and all my colleagues and partners for making it possible. For the young in society, this shows that you can make it! And to all pregnant women the world cares about your life,” Dr. Kariuki took to Twitter to thank the WHO for the award.
Maternal mortality is an issue in many developing countries. Covid-19 brought its own challenges. A study by Johns Hopkins revealed that the pandemic could lead to an additional 1.1 million child deaths and 56,700 maternal deaths in low and middle-income countries.
In Kenya, 28-year-old Kariuki, a resident obstetrician-gynecologist in Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, witnessed first-hand many women and babies losing their lives amid the pandemic. “Every time I went to the hospital it was fewer numbers but more complications…and when women died alone in childbirth, I was like ‘in 2020?’ You are dying? Alone?,” she said to Reuters.
That was when she knew something had to be done to give more pregnant women the care they need especially during the curfew. In August 2020, she initiated ‘Wheels For Life”- a free ambulance service for mothers in labor, especially at night. A year on, the initiative has helped mothers deliver more than 1,000 babies in Nairobi safely.
“Kenya does not have public ambulances and I knew the answer to the escalating problem of losing mothers in labor was to provide not only a transport service but also a call-center that they could reach out to – one that was easily accessible to pregnant women – Wheels for Life,” she said.
Her initiative has received global attention and support from many, doctors, nurses, drivers, customer service, nonprofits, and agencies including the Kenyan Healthcare Federation, AMREF, UN, European Union, and Rescue Ambulance.
Kindly share this widely.All pregnant womens who are stranded at night can call this number toll free and reach doctors. Free transport is provided to the hospitals within Nairobi county. I really really thank God for this. One Yes to Him and step of faith really can change alot pic.twitter.com/uXB0tB9xSv
— Dr. Jemimah Kariuki (@jasminemimz) April 28, 2020
Wheels for Life has received more than 100,000 calls in a year and many lives have been saved because of that.
Kariuki hopes her initiative will be adapted in other counties in Kenya, Africa, and the world at large. She believes every mother deserves the chance to deliver safely and have access to healthcare regardless of the dynamics of even a pandemic.
The young doctor also received a nod from BBC when she made it to BBC’s 100 Women of 2020 list for her services to her community through “Wheels for Life”. She is now looking at what can be done to reduce teenage pregnancies.
“The sky is the limit, and I would like to see myself growing and pushing to spearhead the establishment of many such initiatives,” she was quoted by Standard Media.