Objectives: To assess whether motorcycle ambulances placed at rural health centers are a more effective method of reducing referral delay for obstetric emergencies than a car ambulance at the district hospital, and to compare investment and operating costs with those of a 4 wheel drive car ambulance at the district hospital.
Methods: Motorcycle ambulances were placed at 3 remote rural health centers in Malawi. Data were collected over a 1-year period, from October 2001 to September 2002, using logbooks, cashbooks, referral forms, and maternity registers.
Results: Depending on the site, median referral delay was reduced by 2-4.5 hours (35%-76%). Purchase price of a motorcycle ambulance was 19 times cheaper than for a car ambulance. Annual operating costs were US dollars 508, which was almost 24 times cheaper than for a car ambulance.
Conclusions: In resource-poor countries motorcycle ambulances at rural health centers are a useful means of referral for emergency obstetric care and a relatively cheap option for the health sector.