“The issue about entrepreneurship is when you have an idea that you believe will make a difference and isn’t being done anywhere else, you should be willing to give it time, attention, money – whatever it takes to test the idea.” – Nana Twum-Danso.
Nana Twum-Danso comes from a family of doctors and grew up in a hospital compound surrounded by doctors and nurses, so she knew from quite a young age that she was going to be one as well; it seemed only natural. After her secondary education in both Ghana and the UK, she went on to study Medicine and Public health in the United States of America.
After school, Twum-Danso worked in the US and Ghana and dedicated her services to international organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She returned to Ghana finally in 2015 and founded MAZA, a social enterprise that provides reliable transportation for urgent and emergency health care in remote rural communities of Ghana. The term ‘Maza’ means quickly in Hausa, which makes sense for the sort of service that the initiative provides.
During her years of working to improve maternal and child health in rural areas in Africa, Twum-Danso realised that access to healthcare due to distance and a lack of transportation was a huge challenge. She often heard stories about patients who showed up too late to be helped. And of pregnant women who couldn’t make their way to the hospital when labour kicked in because of long distances, bad roads and few transportation options.
“The logistics were always a problem; getting the people who want to come to the hospital early enough so that the health workers can actually do something to help them. I felt that was the neglected area”, says Nana. “So I spent some time thinking about what could be done sustainably and that was how MAZA came to be.”
MAZA provides readily-available transportation in the form of a pickup tricycle for pregnant women and sick infants in rural communities. The tricycles are purchased by the company and leased out to drivers on a subsidised level, with a work and pay schedule for two years. In exchange for the subsidy, the drivers are to be on call twice a week for community health care transportation.
Findings show that one in four pregnant women who show up for non-urgent skilled antenatal care do not show up for urgent skilled delivery in a health facility. This means a 25 percent gap of unskilled home deliveries, which increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality.
“Every day of the week, we have three or four drivers on call in case there is an emergency. We get calls via our toll-free number or they call the drivers directly. We can activate the driver on call and then they go pick the person up and take them to the clinic.”
This hybrid model operated by MAZA creates jobs for people while providing swift access to healthcare, but it is not without its challenges. Twum-Danso often has to figure out the right amount of subsidy to ensure the drivers pay the minimum amount on a regular basis. She also has to deal with issues such as unreliable mobile network coverage, drivers defaulting on rent payments, and a lack of a vehicle maintenance culture amongst the drivers.
Initially, getting funds to start the initiative was a major challenge and a generous percentage of initial investment came from her. In an interview with TechPoint over a year ago, she said, “Fundraising is very hard, especially for a non-profit start-up. A lot of people we have approached in Ghana and other African countries are initially interested in the idea because transportation is a generic idea. However, when they realise our model is not for profit, they cease being interested.”
But these challenges did not stop Twum-Danso. She greatly believed in the impact of MAZA and was constantly encouraged by positive stories of women and children being saved by the timely intervention of MAZA drivers. Her perseverance is paying off; over time, MAZA has gained traction and has received generous donations from individuals and some global funds including an Innovation grant from USAID Systems for Health Project in Ghana.
“I’m a public health practitioner by choice, I believe that there are opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives and we need to think of creative ways to do that. The usual ways have limitations, so I was willing to take a chance on MAZA’s model of trying to make a significant impact in health outcomes by giving people access to transport in a timely manner, ” she says.