Midwives on Motorbikes!

What do the Scottish Outer Hebrides, Bangkok, Kenya and the south-east Asian island nation of Timor-Leste have in common? 

In all these places, health care for pregnant women often arrives on a motorbike. 

Nurse, Scotland 1926

As early as 1913, the hills of Scotland’s remote Outer Hebrides island communities were alive with the sound of motorbikes. The Hebridean Queen’s Nurses were yesteryear nurses and midwives reliant on motorbikes to reach new mothers and their babies. 

Fast forward over a century and you’ll find motorbike midwives braving the seemingly insurmountable traffic problems of Bangkok to help expectant mothers deliver.  Bangkok employs more than 100 specially trained motorbike midwives who untangle Bangkok’s traffic to tie the umbilical cord. 

Meanwhile in Kenya, midwives drive on flooded dirt roads deep into the country’s interior to reach the communities they serve.  And in Timor-Leste, a south-east Asian island famous for its sharp mountain peaks and land-slide prone hills, large swathes of the country’s rural population are only accessible to midwives on motorbikes.  Midwives on motorbikes save mothers.

Angels on wheels 

Across Australia, we’re fortunate to have the Royal Flying Doctor Service midwives.  They fly to some of our most remote locations to help expectant mothers deliver their babies.

In Timor-Leste, a nation with an infant mortality rate of 30 per 1000 live births (compared to 3.2 in Australia), health workers rely on the motorbikes donated by overseas charities.  Not so much flying doctors, as midwives mounted on motorbikes.

Timor-Leste’s roads can be challenging and full of surprises.  Unrestrained buffalos, monster potholes, children playing in the road and the poor road rules of local drivers are but a few of the concerns!  Which is why rider training and preventative maintenance programs are critical to ensure the motorbikes do not become a danger to riders and road users.

In Partnership with MotoAid

Photo courtesy of MotoAid

MotoAid is an Australian-based charity.  They support the work of health and human development organisations in Timor-Leste by improving the safety and reliability of the motorbikes that midwives rely upon to provide medical services to the rural communities. 

Photo courtesy of MotoAid

They recognise that, unless the health workers familiarise themselves with how a motorbike works, they’re no use to anyone.  Especially, if they’re stranded miles from anywhere with a broken-down bike!  MotoAid provides training on safe riding and basic daily mechanical checks.

Beaumaris Rotary Club has chosen to support MotoAid’s work to train Timor-Leste’s midwives in safe riding and basic motorbike care. 

tropical coastline of Timor-Leste at dawn

Things have moved on since those Scottish midwives raced around on their single-cylinder BSAs in the beginning of the last century. During 2019, MotoAid partnered with Federation University and Intelligent Transport Systems Australia (ITS) in the development of a mobile app that, amongst other things, prompts the Timor-Leste health workers to carry out preventative maintenance on their motorbikes.  It helps ensure the performance of basic daily mechanical checks become second nature. And, because it keeps Timor-Leste’s midwives on the road, it’s another small step towards a reduced infant mortality rate. 


Interested in hearing more about this or indeed any of our other international projects? Contact Megan for a casual catch up.

glenwrightmegan@gmail.com Tel: 0418 578 114

Megan’s our Beaumaris Rotary Membership Director. The title sounds a little formal but trust us, she’s the friendliest person you’ll ever meet! 


 Learn more about MotoAid at http://motoaid.org.au