Antwerp scientists refine emergency transport to improve maternal health in African cities

The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp is mapping travel time to emergency obstetric care in African cities in an effort to improve maternal and child health. The project, a collaboration with Google Health, provides policymakers with more realistic travel times to hospitals.

“Often there is not a minute to spare,” an ITM spokesperson said. “Travel time to hospital is vital, and because navigation systems do not accurately reflect reality in African cities, journey times to emergency rooms are longer than people think. This can have serious consequences for mother and child.”

Poor roads, disorganised neighbourhoods and traffic jams complicate travel, so the ITM’s route planner takes into account factors such as rush hour, distance and the choice of public or private hospital. In the future, it will also consider issues such as quality and cost of care, floods, extreme heat, conflict and ambulance accessibility. 

"Navigation systems do not accurately reflect reality in African cities ... This can have serious consequences for mother and child"

The planner is intended for policymakers. It allows them to identify where bottlenecks are through an interactive dashboard that simulates realistic travel times using Google Maps

“Unlike other models, our model goes beyond simply calculating travel time to the nearest hospital,” said ITM professor Lenka Beňová. “In cities, pregnant women deliberately choose hospitals that are not necessarily the closest, even in emergencies. They have a strong preference for a hospital in which they are confident of getting the best care.”

Findings show that even under optimal conditions, most pregnant women in densely populated African cities have to travel 45 minutes to a public hospital. During rush hour, travel times increase in all cities. Only a small number of women can reach the nearest public hospital within 30 minutes. For women living in slums, reaching timely medical care is even more difficult.


#FlandersNewsService | Traffic in Accra, Ghana © IMAGO

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