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PRESS RELEASE: In The Gambia, Mechanics are Key to Saving Women’s Lives

May 22, 2013  • Institute Contributor


Contact: Elise Mann
Aspen Global Health and Development
The Aspen Institute



Wins International Resolve Award for Health Transport, Access to Reproductive Health


Geneva, May 22, 2013 – Today, The Gambian government will receive the prestigious Resolve Award, which honors nations for expanding access to essential reproductive health services. The Honorable Bala Garba Jahumpa, Minister of Health and Social Welfare, will accept the Award on behalf of The Gambia at a ceremony celebrating the Resolve Awardees during the 66th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Award recognizes The Gambia’s work to improve health transport, which is vitally important for reproductive health. “When a pregnant woman faces a difficult delivery, swift access to medical care can mean the difference between life and death,” said Therese Drammeh, Country Director for Riders for Health, a social enterprise organization. 

Majai Ceesay can attest to that. Ceesay lives in Kaikunda, a remote village 120 miles from Banjul. She nearly died while giving birth to twins in June 2012. But Ceesay was fortunate to receive care from Sheriff Darbo, a community health nurse, who travelled to Kaikanda by motorcycle.  “I can honestly say that without Sheriff, I and my second twin wouldn’t be alive,” says Ceesay.

Darbo was able to attend Ceesay’s birth thanks to a little-known program that has greatly improved health transport in The Gambia. Today, that program will receive the prestigious Resolve Award, which honors nations for expanding access to essential reproductive health services. 

In 2009, The Gambia became the first African country with enough health-care delivery vehicles to service its entire population, thanks to an innovative partnership between The Gambian government and Riders for Health. Previously, many Gambians lacked access to needed health services because of unpaved roads, an aging fleet of health transport vehicles and an unreliable fuel supply.

Drammeh remembers the tragic story of a woman named Fatou, who lost her life and her baby in 2002 because the ambulance that should have moved her from Brikama to the main hospital in Banjul was broken down. “She could not get the urgent care she needed,” recalls Drammeh, “Both she and the baby died while alternative arrangements for transport were being made.”

To prevent such senseless deaths, The Gambian government worked with Riders for Health to craft a solution. With support from the Clinton Global Initiative and the Skoll Foundation, Riders for Health secured bank funding to purchase a new fleet of health transport vehicles—ambulances, SUVs and motorcycles. Riders for Health is responsible for training mechanics and providing parts to maintain the fleet, which it leases to The Gambia’s Ministry of Health for a not-for-profit, fixed fee. 

The results have been dramatic—both for reproductive health and public health more generally:

  • Health outreach workers now have motorcycles that enable them to visit three times as many villages each week, and spend twice as long in each community. 
  • Health workers see 6,000 more people every week than they did previously. 
  • Three times more patients are referred from health centers to hospitals. 
  • Outreach clinics provide maternal and child care on a scheduled basis, ensuring access to family planning, immunizations, and prevention of maternal-to-child transmission of HIV. 
  • More than 90 percent of Gambian children are now immunized. 

The Gambia’s new fleet of health-transport vehicles has logged some 10 million kilometers since 2009, without a single breakdown due to lack of maintenance. 

As a recipient of the Resolve Award, The Gambia’s work on health transport will receive international attention. The Resolve Award is granted by the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health (GLC), a group of eighteen sitting and former heads of state, high-level policymakers and other leaders who build political leadership for increased financial and technical support for reproductive health. 

Resolve Award winners are chosen through a competitive global nominations process. In addition to The Gambia, this year’s winners include Kenya and Zambia, with a special mention to Sierra Leone.

The Award will be presented by GLC Chair Joy Phumaphi. Ms. Phumaphi, who also serves as Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), is the former Minister of Health for Botswana. 

The Gambia and other Resolve Award winners can inspire other nations, says Phumaphi. “There are many barriers to reproductive health access. It might be bad roads and broken-down ambulances that keep pregnant women from getting to the hospital. It might be a lack of funding, or political opposition. It might be abusive husbands who do not want their wives to use family planning. But, as the Resolve Award winners have shown, all of these barriers can be overcome.”

As the world’s nations discuss development strategies to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, The Gambia and other Resolve Award winners can point the way forward. “The Resolve Award winners show what we can do—and what we must do—to lead the way to universal access to reproductive health and rights,” says Phumaphi.

Join the webcast on May 22 at to watch the ceremony and participate via Twitter by following @GLCRHresolve and #ResolveAward.

About The Aspen Institute 

The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, established by The Aspen Institute in 2010, is composed of eighteen sitting and former heads of state, high-level policymakers and other leaders who build political leadership for increased financial and technical support for reproductive health. The Council works to revitalize political commitments to reproductive health by increasing awareness of reproductive health issues, supporting the effective use of donor resources, and championing policies dedicated to achieving universal access to reproductive health. Learn more at

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit