March 31, 2009

Bicycle Ambulances Ease Plight of Rural Communities (Namibia)

WINDHOEK – Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia has enlarged the territory for bicycle ambulances to neighbouring countries. This has opened up a market for the bicycle ambulances, which calls for its local manufacture, according to BEN Namibia Managing Director, Michael Linke.

BEN Namibia has had a lot of interest from other countries looking for the designs to manufacture.

Recently, a request to send the ambulances to Sudan could not be met because it became very expensive to transport them.

The organisation recently sent six bicycle ambulances to Matala District Hospital and Kimpungu Health Centre in southern Angola. In addition, the BEN Namibia bicycle ambulance design has been replicated in Zambia.

More than 100 of these bicycle ambulances have been distributed to communities to ease the burden of rural people in transporting their sick to healthcare facilities.

The ambulance is a stretcher on wheels hooked behind a bicycle and used by healthcare volunteers to transport the sick, pregnant and people living with HIV/AIDS to receive treatment.

Most of the 106 ambulances were delivered to communities across Namibia through support from Canadian Rotary Clubs and Design for Development.

Linke told New Era on Friday the six ambulances were delivered to the health facilities almost two weeks ago. He said more ambulances will be sent to southern Angola depending on their success.

With the bicycle ambulances becoming more popular, Linke said the organisation wanted the private sector to be involved in the manufacture of the bicycles.

A bicycle ambulance costs approximately N$4 000, which includes monitoring and ongoing support.

BEN Namibia’s bicycle ambulance project began when the organisation found that healthcare volunteers who had received bicycles through the projects were using the luggage racks to transport clients to hospitals and clinics.

Having heard about the work of FABIO (an organisation addressing non-motorised transport issues in Africa) manufacturing and distributing bicycle ambulances in Uganda, BEN Namibia saw the potential to apply the idea in Namibia.

The first prototype, a basic stretcher towed behind a bicycle, was demonstrated to HIV/AIDS home-based care volunteers in Oshakati in 2005, who gave advice and encouragement.

In 2006, Yelula/U-Khai funded the prototyping phase that facilitated the development of a design appropriate for Namibian conditions.

The finished design features a robust steel frame, seat-post attachment system made from off-the-shelf nuts and bolts, pulling handle for crossing thick sand and stand-alone use, a removable stretcher with adjustable backrest, carry bag for basic medical supplies, sun shade and standard mountain bike wheels.

BEN Namibia partners with community-based organisations throughout the country to deliver each bicycle ambulance. Healthcare volunteers receive training in use, maintenance and reporting on the performance of the ambulance.

Bank Windhoek, the Australian High Commission in South Africa, and a partnership between The Rotary Clubs of China Town Vancouver, Port Moody, Windhoek, Rotary International, Design for Development in Canada and individual donations have funded over 70 bicycle ambulances.


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