Five years ago, Dr. Marko Hingi, decided to start an emergency medical system in Mwanza, Tanzania. He didn’t know a whole lot about emergency medical services (EMS), but he knew that Mwanza needed one. A study published by doctors from the city’s main medical center showed that less than 1% of road traffic injury victims were being transported to their hospital by ambulance — most were arriving under the care of untrained responders in private vehicles. The same was true for patients with other types of emergency condition – whether it was a mother in labor, a child who had drowned, or a baby with diarrhea, patients with life-threatening medical conditions were basically on their own to find a way to the hospital. This wasn’t an academic topic for Dr. Hingi, either: he knew from personal experience how difficult it was for the acutely ill and injured to find transport to the hospital in Tanzania.
Equipped with little more than the desire to do some good and an Internet connection, Dr. Hingi and his nonprofit organization, the Tanzania Rural Health Movement (TRHM), set out on a mission to launch Mwanza’s first prehospital emergency care system. Five years, and close to 1,000 emergency responses later, Dr. Hingi is getting ready to open a new emergency dispatch center in Mwanza.
Funded through support from private donors, Trek Medics International, and the Segal Family Foundation, the new building will serve dual purposes, housing TRHM’s dispatch center as well as a dispensary to support street medicine program where TRHM serves through their community medical outreaches.
We sat down with Dr. Hingi recently to get updates on the new dispatch center and learn more about TRHM’s plans for improving access to prehospital emergency care in Mwanza.
Who can call TRHM’s new dispatch center?
Anyone can call us at anytime, 24-7, by calling 0800 750 112. The number’s toll-free, graciously provided to us by Vodacom, and will be answered by nurses who can help assess the situation and give directions to bystander as they alert and dispatch local responders to the scene to provide rapid response and care.
Are you worried that the number is too complicated to remember?
No. Tanzanians are very used to memorizing numbers, so we don’t think this will be too difficult. They can also save the number in their phones and we will be running community outreach campaigns to help people memorize it. We would of course prefer a short number, but that will require more support from the other telecom companies and the government, and there are people who need help now so we will do what we can with what we have.
Can you tell us more about the responders that you dispatch?
The responders include local bodaboda drivers, members of the Mwanza Fire Rescue Force, the Traffic Police, and TRHM volunteer community health workers, who have all been trained in first aid and basic life support by TRHM.
How long will it take for responders to arrive on scene?
Our goal is that responders arrive on-scene within 5 minutes. It can vary depending on where the incident occurs, and how much traffic there is, but we are averaging now around 7 minutes for all calls, with the majority of those within 5 minutes. However, our dispatch center is also staffed with nurses to give directions and help community members who are already on scene take precautions and help the patient into a safe position until our responders arrive.
Can you tell us how it works?
When someone calls the toll-free number, 0800 750 112, the nurse will answer the phone and ask the caller a series of questions about the incident. She will then send out an alert by text message to all of the first responders in the region with information about the location of the incident and the type of emergency. This will include boda-boda drivers, ambulance drivers, the fire department and the police department, if there is a need for security measures to be considered.
When should people call you?
People should call us whenever they witness a life-threatening medical emergency, 24-7. We have the ability to provide triage and transportation to the appropriate medical center or hospital. If you witness a crime, call the police. If you have a fire, call the fire department. If they do not answer, you can call the TRHM Call Center for help and we can alert the fire department as well. But if you have a medical situation, such as a child birth, a sick child, a car accident, a drowning, or any number of typical emergency medical situations, call the toll-free number 0800 750 112.
What are your future plans?
Our hope is that the prehospital emergency care service will win the trust and support of the entire community – the people, the government, the businesses, everyone. No one is immune from unexpected emergencies, and everyone benefits when rapid care and transport is available. With the community’s support, we will be able to continue providing emergency care and expand to regions outside the city center. This has already started to happen, and it’s a very encouraging sign to us because it means that people are aware of what we offer and trust us. With more community support, we’ll be able to continue growing and educating nurses and prehospital responders on advanced life care while offering increased access to improved health care in the region.
You can always call, toll-free, 0800 750 112.