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Boat ambulance, the cruise between life and death

Health & Science
 A journey from Faza Island to King Fahd would take one up  to three hours on water or even more depending on the tides.. [iStock]

For many people who live on Lamu Island, getting sick comes with a myriad questions: which hospital will I go to? How will I get there? Will I even survive the journey? 

For expectant women or the critically ill, the line between death and survival is drawn on the choppy waters of the Indian Ocean.

The launch of a boat ambulance however, is considered a reprieve here; a small yet important step towards improving the health outcomes of a community that has long been left to the vagaries of the beautiful archipelago they call home.

Ordinarily, patients would take longer on water before reaching King Fahd Referral Hospital for specialised care. However, this is set to change with the commissioning of an additional boat ambulance that will serve the vast county’s several Islands.

For instance, a journey from Faza Island to King Fahd would take one up  to three hours on water or even more depending on the tides, but with the new ambulance the time travel will be reduced to approximately 30 minutes.

“The county has logistical challenges, accessing the islands can also be challenging depending on the tides, this boat will make our lives a bit better,” said Lamu Governor Fahim Twaha.

Twaha, who commissioned the boat said it would operate on ‘a 24/7’ basis and “residents will not be required to pay for the services.”

 Lamu Governor Fahim Twaha (C) commissioned the boat. [Courtesy]

The boat ambulance that costs Sh9.5 million, is fully fitted with equipment to cater for medical emergencies and transfer services of patients to the referral hospital. It will link patients from Faza, Mpeketoni sub-county hospitals, Kiwayu and Kizingitini dispensaries to King Fahd hospital.

King Fahd, receives patients with all medical conditions including emergency cases. Before the upgrade of Faza and Mpeketoni hospitals, the referral hospital would receive between four and five patients per day. “Most of the patients we receive are from Lamu east, they come in with stab wounds,” says the hospital’s nurse, Esther Osewe.

The nurse who also operates in the boat ambulance said that most referrals would come from Mpeketoni sub-County hospital that is currently grappling with a broken-down X-ray machine. “Most patients who are referred from Mpeketoni come in for services like CT scan and ultrasound,” said Osewe.

Given its geographical nature, transport in Lamu remains a major challenge and when emergencies arise, patients are often left stranded as the normal boats are either not readily available or don’t work past a stipulated time. Logistic challenges have been a major cause of Lamu’s high maternal mortality rate. “We hope this launch will help save lives that would have otherwise been lost due to lack of or delayed transport,” said, Safaricom Foundation chair, Joe Ogutu.

The boat ambulance he said, can accommodate a maximum of two stretcher beds that can facilitate the transfer of patients.  Initially, the health workers aboard the old ambulance would be forced to improvise a bed in order to accommodate a patient.

Ogutu also added that their interventions in the county are aimed at reducing maternal mortality rate which stands at 676 deaths per 100,000 births compared to the national average. The foundation also hopes to eliminate infant mortality rate which stands at 4.81 deaths per 1,000 live births.

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