Bicycle Ambulance

Posted on January 19, 2007
Filed Under >Bilal Zuberi, Disasters, Economy & Development, Health & Disease, Science and Technology
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Bilal Zuberi

Dawn website and found myself with mixed feelings. On one hand, the picture of a young boy being taken to the hospital on a ‘thela’ was deeply troubling. Even in a city with so many public and private ambulance services, this poor family still did not have affordable access to a comfortable and safe ride to the hispital. One can only imagine the lack of such a facilities in rural areas.

But at the same time, I also thought this was an opportunity to create a human-powered ambulance that at least provided service in areas where regular ambulances were hard to locate. I am sure with local ingenuity and some more advanced mechanical research at Pakistani univeristies, an affordable, comfortable, and safe ambulatory vehicle could be designed for work in rural areas. Perhaps it could even be financed, and integrated into low-income or micro-credit eco-system.

Specifically I was reminded of a demonstration by a group of students at MIT a few months ago that had specifically worked in African developing countries to design a bicycle ambulance that would provide a more comfortable ride to pregnant women, elderly, and non-emergency patients to hospitals and clinics (click on picture to enlarge). They had not only used local parts to design a safe and relatively comfortable, yet affordable, transport for patients, but had also done work in understanding the economics of creating local ambulance services.

According to the WHO and UNICEF in 2000, sub-sararan africa had a 1% maternal mortality rate. I am not sure what the rate of maternal mortality is, especially in rural Pakistan, but I would guess at least some of those deaths could be prevented if women had access to transportation to clinics and hospitals. I am just thinking if something like this could also have been helpful in the case of disaster relief, such as the during the earthquake in the Kashmir region?

I think if a group, non-profit organization, or a university student group was to take leadership in this, interesting results could be obtained that would pertain not just to the creation of bicycle ambulances, but also better technology for bicycles for the disabled (such as hand cycles), wheelchairs, and other similar of machines. It is not unthinkable that we could also create our own version of wheelchairs that could climb stairs, or at least bicycles that provided safety for children when being driven with kids on it. There is a tremendous room for technical innovation – it just needs a little push.

Are there people here willing to join me in creating a competition for Pakistani univeristy students to create such technologies?

10 responses to “Bicycle Ambulance”

  1. Sue Brittain says:

    What lifts up one – lifts us all.

  2. […] Bilal Zuberi of All Things Pakistan shares his thoughts on the possibility of promoting the low cost Bicycle Ambulance in the remote areas of Pakistan. […]

  3. Anwar says:

    Two years ago I watched a program on Discovery Channel about a South African engineer marketing an epoxy impregnated plywood constructed flat bed truck for Thailand. Engine had multiple roles including pumping water, cutter, power generator and so on. A really low tech but very functional system.
    Engineering students in Pakistan do have “final year’ project and there have been a number of good projects. Simple alternatives are therefore available. However the problem is marketing and sustainability – and that depends on acceptability by public and organizations.
    These ideas have greater chances of success if they are market driven. Ofcourse, patronizing will help.

  4. Kabir says:

    Bilal: Yeah I saw a presentation on that straw. I am interested in interjecting strategic design & innovation in Pakistan and am working on a special education program to do that. Goal is to bring the high end knowledge to the grass root level in PK. I think the basic issue is lack of leadership. Read the book “Massive Change” (Bruce Mau) we need similar mind set in PK. And we will :) To see your thought process is encouraging.

    Also somebody gotta bring the “Little Green Laptops” back in action… It is a tiny $100 laptop that runs without electricity. Very important for our kids in rural areas.

  5. Bilal Zuberi says:

    Kabir: There is certainly a movement towards ‘smart’ engineering to solve the largest problems in the world, from basic health care needs to clean water and clean air. One of the most fascinating inventions I saw last year was a clean water filter which basically works as a straw for drinking water, except that the straw is filled with relatively cheap dirt (of various particle sizes as filters) and some ferric oxides to remove heavy metals. Development by Design, and Design for Sustainability is the mantra at places like MIT.

    Ahsan: I am interested in creating a technology/business plan competition in Pakistani universities focused on these low-tech but highly relevant problems that face Pakistan. But in addition to just creating technologies, i want to help create an eco-system where the same students have to develop business and economic models of actually bringing their inventions to fruition in the market place. Currently Pakistani engineering students do sometimes participate in complex ngineering ‘projects’ as a part of coursework, but they hardly learn to be independent in those projects, and certainly do not make the connection between the problems that 140 million of us and their technical innovations. Why not fund competitions, with support from early stage investor groups, to generate smartly designed technical solutions and workable business ideas to solve our biggest problems?

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