Miguel da Costa: Shifting gears to save lives in Timor-Leste
01 September 2023
Dili, September 1, 2023 – In Timor-Leste, lack of patient transport remains one of the most important challenges preventing communities from accessing health care services. Most families, in rural areas like Manatuto municipality, cannot afford to pay for private arrangements to reach health centers.
In Timor-Leste, lack of patient transport remains one of the most important challenges preventing communities from accessing health care services. Most families, in rural areas like Manatuto municipality, cannot afford to pay for private arrangements to reach health centers.
For Miguel da Costa, a 58-year-old ambulance driver, driving is not just about shifting gears and ensuring his passengers reach their destination – it is about saving lives.
Miguel has transported patients for over a decade – mostly mothers and babies from remote areas – to receive essential health care services and is the reason that many pregnant mothers in Manatuto and its environs reach health centers on time.
“Having an ambulance service makes a big difference in saving lives. My job is about saving communities and patients from walking, carrying patients using porters or tuk tuks and ensuring patients reach the hospital on time,” narrates Miguel da Costa.
“The ambulance I am driving has saved a lot of lives. Most mothers in Manatuto can identify this ambulance and have a personal story of how it saved their lives or those of their loved ones. I am happy to offer my services to ensure patients access health facilities on time,” said Miguel da Costa.
He drives one of the only two ambulances currently available in Manatuto municipality; one serving district health facilities and other referral facilities in neighbouring municipalities. The ambulance that he is currently driving was initially meant to support the Manatuto Health Services - Department of Maternal Mortality but because of limited ambulances, it is also used in emergencies and when there are accidents.
“Communities and health centers in the district have my number and I am always on call whenever there is a distress call requiring ambulance services.”
Miguel’s ambulance was originally donated by Rui Costa, a former Portugal National Team football player, who was touched by the struggles of pregnant mothers in Timor-Leste to reach community healthcare centers.
It was Otília Joana de Assunção Moniz Pereira, a public health officer and Head of Department of Public Health at Manatuto District Health Services, who traveled to Lisbon, Portugal in 2010 to receive this donation.
“UNFPA facilitated my visit to Portugal to share experiences on maternal health in Timor-Leste. I was fortunate to meet Rui Costa and Catarina Furtado, UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador and shared with them about the challenges that mothers are facing in accessing health facilities and the high number of preventable deaths during births – especially in Manatuto.
“Rui Costa agreed to donate one ambulance, that is still in use to date, to help improve health services. While we appreciate the services of the ambulance, it has been in use for a long time and its condition has deteriorated due to aging and accessing rough terrains in hard to reach areas,” said Otilia Joana de Assunção.
When asked about what would happen if the ambulance operations cease, Miguel da Costa stated:
“If the current ambulance stopped its operations, the critical transport services in the district will be seriously affected as patients in need will have to depend on alternative means to reach health facilities. I appeal to well-wishers and authorities to consider donating a new ambulance to ensure critical services are not interrupted in Manatuto”.
For more information, contact:
Communications and Programme Support Specialist
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Timor-Leste
Mobile: +67075169796, Email; firstname.lastname@example.org