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story.lead_photo.caption Veronica Atieno, center, bites down on a wooden cooking spoon as traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, assists her before delivering her baby in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic curfew, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March.

The concerns drove obstetrician and gynecologist Jemimah Kariuki at the government-run Kenyatta National Hospital to attempt a solution -- to create an emergency service, Wheels for Life.

"When the curfew started we had open hospitals but no women, and we would hear reports of women delivering at home with very dire consequences: Women would come in the morning with babies who passed in the night or they had ruptured the uterus or had significant tears," she said.

When one mother was reported to have died while in labor, Kariuki felt she needed to do something.

She shared her phone number on Twitter, asking women who needed to consult about their pregnancies to reach out. The tweet quickly went viral.

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"The response was overwhelming, I was getting 30 to 40 calls from women telling me, 'I was anxious, I did not know what to do.' In one week I had five mothers calling me like, 'I am in labor and I don't know what to do," she said.

Kariuki started to track down vehicles to provide transportation to health facilities, but few were on the road because of multiple reports of police brutality while enforcing the curfew. Human rights groups have reported at least 23 curfew violators allegedly killed by police, and videos have circulated of baton-wielding officers whipping people.

Kariuki reached out to companies and state organizations for support in providing free services such as transportation and medical personnel. The response was overwhelming, leading to the formation of Wheels for Life.

The Health Ministry, Nairobi University, taxi service Bolt and others pitched in to provide the free services.

"It is really amazing when you can see that people are willing to go beyond the economic gain so that they can help the less privileged in society, especially at a time of covid when everyone is thinking about cutting costs," Kariuki said.

Wheels for Life has a toll-free number which pregnant mothers call to be triaged and connected to a doctor. If a mother needs medical attention but it's not an emergency, a taxi is dispatched to take her to hospital. If it's an emergency, an ambulance is dispatched.

Gallery: Kenyan moms-to-be fearful

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According to the United Nations' Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group, maternal deaths in Kenya had fallen from 9,100 a year in 2000 to 5,000 in 2017. That translates to 13 recorded maternal deaths daily, down from 24.

Still, the East African country remains among the top 21 in the world for maternal deaths.

Louisa Muteti, chair of the Midwives Association of Kenya, fears that mother and child deaths during childbirth have increased under the curfew.

Muteti said 68% of mothers who give birth in Kenya have access to skilled personnel. Others give birth at home using traditional birth attendants or by themselves, and when deaths occur they are not officially recorded.

Transport and security are the biggest challenges under curfew, Muteti said, especially in dimly lit informal settlements.

"That's why some mothers may die at home or struggle and go to hospital in the morning, only to die," she said.

Kariuki said Wheels for Life has handled 10,950 calls in the last 100 days while 890 women have been taken to hospitals for various issues with their pregnancies.

Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino walks down an alley near her home, where she assists women in delivering babies, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino walks down an alley near her home, where she assists women in delivering babies, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, prepares to help Veronica Atieno, right, deliver her baby in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, prepares to help Veronica Atieno, right, deliver her baby in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Veronica Atieno endures labor pains as traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, behind, assists her in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Veronica Atieno endures labor pains as traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, behind, assists her in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, cuts with a razor blade the umbilical cord of newborn daughter Shaniz Joy Juma after she was delivered by her mother Veronica Atieno, center, in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, cuts with a razor blade the umbilical cord of newborn daughter Shaniz Joy Juma after she was delivered by her mother Veronica Atieno, center, in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, right, massages a pregnant woman, before assisting in delivering her baby, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, right, massages a pregnant woman, before assisting in delivering her baby, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino cleans up after helping Veronica Atieno deliver her daughter Shaniz Joy Juma in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino cleans up after helping Veronica Atieno deliver her daughter Shaniz Joy Juma in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Mother Veronica Atieno, left, looks on as her husband Gabriel Owour Juma holds their daughter Shaniz Joy Juma, delivered a month earlier by a traditional birth attendant during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, accompanied by elder daughter Valine Shalom Juma, right, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Mother Veronica Atieno, left, looks on as her husband Gabriel Owour Juma holds their daughter Shaniz Joy Juma, delivered a month earlier by a traditional birth attendant during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, accompanied by elder daughter Valine Shalom Juma, right, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 3, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, hands over newborn daughter Shaniz Joy Juma, center, to her mother Veronica Atieno, right, after she was born in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, hands over newborn daughter Shaniz Joy Juma, center, to her mother Veronica Atieno, right, after she was born in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya in the early hours of Friday, May 29, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, prepares to help Veronica Atieno, right, deliver her baby in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, late at night in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, May 28, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Traditional birth attendant Emily Owino, left, prepares to help Veronica Atieno, right, deliver her baby in Emily's one-room house during a dusk-to-dawn curfew, late at night in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, May 28, 2020. Kenya already had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and though data are not yet available on the effects of the curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, experts believe the number of women and babies who die in childbirth has increased significantly since it was imposed mid-March. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
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