Inexpensive health care in rural Bangladesh is within reach due to solar technology. Researchers from Bangladesh’s BRAC University collaborated with Beevatech, a vehicle manufacturer, to create an ambulance that runs entirely on solar power. The three-wheeled ambulance, financed by the World Bank and seed funds from the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is on track for a launch within the year.

The upgrade was sorely needed. Many rural Bangladeshi communities are unable to afford ambulance service, and people needing emergency care are forced to ride in antiquated, painfully slow, human-powered rickshaws. This solar technology will be a game-changer for outlying communities, as the new ambulances are expected to cost as little as $1,900. In contrast, traditional ambulances cost at least $30,000 in Bangladesh.

Innovation from an Unlikely Source

The project’s team leader, BRAC University professor A.K.M. Abdul Malek Azad, was inspired by a unique source — the racecar. Azad learned of a solar racecar being driven in Australia, and the idea struck. “I thought if researchers can develop a solar racing car, there is potential to develop a solar ambulance,” he explained.

Although the solar ambulance is faster than its human-powered counterpart, it can’t be mistaken for its racecar inspiration. The vehicle has a maximum speed of 9-12 mph. Still, the speed is a far cry from that of a human-powered rickshaw.

Green and Inexpensive

Azad has a big-picture approach for the ambulance. Not only are the vehicles cheap to purchase, but they are also inexpensive to run. They are equipped with a solar battery for use during nighttime hours, and there are solar panels on the roof to power it by day. The battery can recharge within three to four hours.

There are plans in the works to further improve the solar technology. Azad would like to see the installation of a solar-powered battery charging station at or near hospitals. Azad says, “This step is taken to ensure complete independence of these electrically assisted rickshaws from the national grid… by using the solar power we can reduce operational costs and save the environment.”

The Test Drive

BRAC University’s Control & Applications Research Centre (CARC) took the rough roads of rural Bangladesh into consideration when designing the ambulance. The wheels were constructed to be thicker and smaller than the wheels of traditional rickshaws. This ensures a smoother ride on even the roughest roads. They also strengthened the chassis to increase stability — an important asset for a three-wheeled vehicle.

BRAC University researchers reported that they received a positive reception from the public when testing their prototype.

Impressed by the innovative solar technology, Health Ministry Secretary Habibur Rahman Khan reported that they would consider purchasing the ambulances for rural hospitals, once available.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

This 2-minute video should be required watching for all Americans. There’s a reason the U.S. and our allies provide aid and there is a reason for welcoming refugees… This boy explains both, without saying a word.



Motorcycles are often the vehicle of choice in the developing world because of their ability to zip over harsh terrain and their low maintenance costs. A motorcycle manufacturing company, eRanger, has taken this versatile vehicle and given it a new purpose as an ambulance. The eRanger company builds motorcycles with a sidecar that serves as a stretcher to transport patients from remote areas to the nearest health center or hospital.

Called the eRanger ambulance, this motorcycle offers the high-power capacity needed to cover diverse and often difficult terrain in rural and remote areas. The sidecar stretcher acts as a bed for the patient, allowing for quick and effective transport. The stretcher is designed to be simple but safe, rugged but reliable, with a cushioned pad for patient comfort and a roll cage for safety.

Loading a patient is made easy by simply pushing back the roll cage and strapping the patient into the stretcher. A rain cover can be attached to the roll cage, providing comfort and privacy in different weather conditions, and this innovative ambulance also offers room for emergency medical supplies underneath the stretcher.

The eRanger ambulance also provides additional comfort through its rugged suspension system, which absorbs shock so patients bounce less during transport. This vehicle provides the perfect alternative to the popular 4 by 4 all-terrain vehicles because of its enhanced suspension system, low cost, and simple maintenance. Motorcycle ambulances are also preferable to car ambulances, especially during the rainy season, because they are better able to navigate over developing nations’ diverse terrain.

These motorcycle ambulances are already stationed at health centers through Africa where health workers and community members can utilize them as needed. The eRanger method goes beyond just providing the vehicles, though. They provide training, maintenance instruction, and tools to keep the motorcycles in good condition.

Sustainability is key, says the eRanger company, so they provide a maintenance unit with all the necessary tools and equipment for the eRanger ambulance. This affordable, reliable, and sustainable ambulance also helps communities become more self-reliant by taking health care into their own hands.

For example, the eRanger ambulance makes it possible for a mother in labor to reach a health care clinic quickly, reducing maternal mortality rates in many African nations.

The eRanger model also allows its motorcycle to adapt to the needs of problems in the developing world, from emergency ambulance to mobile medical clinic. The company also manufactures an eRanger immunization clinic, which recreates the sidecar into a stainless steel mini clinic with refrigeration storage, weight scales, and clean water unit.

This versatile motorcycle promises dramatic impact to healthcare in developing nations. Backing that promise is an eRanger patron, Nelson Mandela, who helped eRanger South Africa launch in the Eastern Cape. Since the launch, eRanger has built a college for riders and operators in Eastern Cape, which includes basic control of the vehicle, road riding, off-road riding, and essential maintenance.

In just five hours, operators can reach a basic competency to operate and care for the motorcycle, but advanced training is always available, says eRanger. With just the right mix of affordability, sustainability, and reliability, eRanger is helping save lives in developing nations by providing safe, quick access to critical health care.

– Georganne Hassell
Sources: eRanger, UNICEF, Changemakers, The Guardian
Photo: Motorcycle

The Flying Doctors Nigeria is an air ambulance service based in Lagos, Nigeria. Founded by Dr. Ola Orekunrin, the service is the first of its kind in West Africa. The company was founded to serve a need for immediate air transport for those injured or in desperate need of medical attention. According to Orekunrin, for many in Nigeria, medical help was next to impossible to find because the two or three good hospitals were two to four day journeys away. For a nation that has a huge oil and gas industry, the fact that there was no system for transporting to hospitals quickly seemed to be a glaring error in heath care to Orekunrin.

Dr. Orekunrin herself was impacted by the lack of transportation for the sick or injured. A few years ago, while Orekunrin was studying in the U.K., her 12-year-old sister fell gravely ill while on vacation in Nigeria. She needed medical care urgently but the local hospital could not care for the condition she had. The family was shocked to find out that there was no available air ambulance service in all of West Africa to move the girl to a better healthcare center  and that they would have to call for a flight all the way from South Africa. By the time the flight was even available, the little girl had already passed away.

For Orekunrin, the sudden loss of her younger sister was both shocking and life changing. A doctor by the age of 21, Orekunrin had a promising career in the U.K. as one the youngest, most talented, and ambitious young leaders. Yet she left it all to move to Nigeria to address healthcare in the African nation. So Orekunrin went to study evacuation models and air ambulance in developing countries. In 2010, she launched her own company Flying Doctors Nigeria.

Flying Doctors Nigeria is currently in its third year and continues to swiftly transport people who need urgent medical care. It has since airlifted and provided expert health care en route to 500 patients. The company uses a fleet of planes and helicopters in its work. The service has carried all sorts of injured or ill from victims of traffic accidents to gunshot wounds. This transportation is critical to patients as roads in parts of West Africa are often poorly maintained and badly lit at night, making transportation in cars both inefficient and difficult.

There are still many hurdles that this young company must face. First and foremost, aviation business is highly expensive in Nigeria. Orekunrin has stated “keeping costs down is always a challenge.” Furthermore red tape is always tangling up businesses. Yet with a growing financial services sector and a growing petroleum and gas industry could fuel demand for companies like Flying Doctors Nigeria. For Orekunrin and those who work with her, their labor is difficult, but the rewards for their hard work and dedication are life saving.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: CNN CP Africa Knowledge Fountain
Photo: Blogspot