The surgeon is taking advantage of a growing mobile-banking industry, using his cell phone to send money via SMS to Tanzanian women suffering from fistula — a highly-stigmatized condition that women can develop after a long, traumatic childbirth without proper medical care.
The money is used to pay for a patient’s bus ticket — helping them travel from rural areas to Dar es Salaam, one of the few places where corrective surgeries are performed.
Marenga says the practice is helping transform the lives of many women who, unable to afford treatment, become outcasts in their communities.
“It has changed our treatment, because now we are having so many patients who could not access treatment before because of the transport barrier,” he says. “Last year we treated only 100, we had 163 surgeries; this year, up to now we’ve had 253.”
“We use the mobile phone to actually transfer those transport grants to the communities, so that those woman can reach our facility — and then the cost of lodging in a hospital, we also bear the costs,” says Erwin Telemans, who runs the clinic.
The service is part of a growing trend in developing countries that sees millions of people using mobile phone technology to make up for a lack of access to banking services.
They use services such as Vodafone’s M-Pesa to pay their bills, withdraw salaries and send remittances to distant areas via SMS.
“Banks need power, they need roads, they need cash replenishment, they need all of those things to be in place before they can spread; mobile money doesn’t need as much of that,” says Dylan Lennox, of Vodafone, which is one of the companies tapping into the booming mobile banking market in developing countries.
“It’s a very popular way, and a very easy way, to grow financial services in a country,” he adds.
After successfully launching M-Pesa in Kenya, Vodafone has rolled out its service in Tanzania, where it says its customers made nearly 700 million transactions last year.