The Zambulance – a life-saving bicycle trailer
By Ben Coxworth
September 20, 2010
According to a recent study, over 60 percent of people in developing countries live more than eight kilometers (five miles) from a healthcare facility. As you can imagine, most of these people don’t own cars, or even have access to motorized ambulance services. When they require urgent medical attention, they often have to walk, are loaded into an ox cart or wheelbarrow, or have to sit on the rack of a bicycle. Fortunately, however, an alternative is available to some – the Zambulance. While the bicycle trailer/ambulance might seem like very basic medical transportation, early trials indicate that it’s truly life-saving.
The Zambulance is made by Zambikes, a Zambian company that manufactures and sells bicycles, both to companies and individuals. It operates as a social business, meaning that although it is a private for-profit enterprise, all of its year-end profits are invested back into the business and the surrounding community. It also provides job training and employment for people who otherwise might have none.
The Zambulance is simply a bicycle trailer with a liquid-impervious mattress which allows patients to lie flat in relative comfort. A curtain provides privacy, along with shelter from heat and rain. Options such as intravenous hangers are also available.
During a four-month period, 40 Zambulances were tested out in African communities. Caregivers reported using the trailers 82 times, and classified 86 percent of those trips as “lifesaving.” According to the World Health Organization, one Ugandan community went from having approximately 30 women a year die while in childbirth, to none after a year of using a bicycle ambulance. Another study determined that a Zambulance saves one life for every nine days it’s in use.
Such figures aren't hard to believe, when you consider that a 2.5-km (1.55-mile) trip that took two to three hours by ox cart, reportedly now takes 30 minutes by Zambulance. There are some limitations to the technology, namely steep hills and muddy roads. With current advances in both electric bicycles and solar power, however, perhaps at least the hill-climbing issue can be addressed.