Woman starts own EMS company

WHEN ambulances wouldn’t respond to calls in this community, one woman started her own EMS Company.

No day is the same for Evalyne Nyangweso, entrepreneur and owner of an ambulance service dedicated to an unforgiving community prone to poor health, disease and high crime rates.

Operating in Kibera, Africa’s largest informal settlement, where traditional ambulances daren’t go and even police tread carefully, Nyangweso and her crew are the first responders to medical emergencies.

From domestic violence to gang rape, rapid response paramedics encounter extremes. Punctuality and compassion are key, and failure can result in being pelted with stones by frustrated bystanders.

It’s not a job for the faint-hearted.

Despite this, Nyangweso remains dedicated and on-call 24/7 to 250 000 of Kenya’s poorest people. In the little spare time she has, she advertises, handing out calling cards in hospitals and churches and posting stickers around Kibera.

Her company, Rapid Response, is now in its third year. Nyangweso came up with the idea after she was made redundant from Nairobi’s St Mary’s Mission Hospital.

Nyangweso and her husband are both trained nurses, with children aged nine, 14 and 19, for whom they have high hopes.

“It’s a medical family. I like it and would like them to be in the same field. If not the ambulance [service], maybe doctors or surgeons,” she says.

She knew the Red Cross were struggling to cope with demand in Kibera. After completing a paramedic course, she bought a fully equipped ambulance and a second compact vehicle to negotiate the narrow dirt tracks. Both were second-hand.

Next, she recruited staff: Timon and George, trained emergency vehicle drivers, and Winnie, a Red Cross-trained paramedic.

The next challenge was communication.

With no hi-tech call centre, Nyangweso uses her own mobile, juggling business and personal calls. She hopes one day she will make enough money for a second phone, as her current one has a broken screen.

“We collected a pregnant woman from Kibera and delivered her to hospital but her child died. She had no phone and wanted to ring her husband to ask him to take the child to the mortuary, as the hospital won’t do this without payment,” Nyangweso explains.

“I lent her my phone. Carried away by emotions, she threw it, damaging the screen. She had no money to pay for it or the ambulance journey. There was nothing I could do.”

Kenya’s health service is not free and the briefest contact with a medical practitioner is met with a demand for payment.

“With most clients, we simply agree on a figure. Within Nairobi, we’re supposed to charge 5 000 shillings [R720] for each trip. In Kibera, they cannot afford that, so I charge between 3 000 and 3 500 shillings [R430 to 500] depending on the strength of their family. We won’t refuse someone in need because they don’t have money,” she says.

“Some patients don’t pay. They promise and don’t honour it.”