A team of mechanical engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US are developing a special motorbike ambulance cart that can transport emergency patients in rural Tanzania to healthcare facilities.

The idea for the ambulance cart began in 2016 when mechanical engineering students, Sade Nabahe and Emily Young, took part in a MIT’s D-Lab Design class, an initiative that focuses on engineering and international development. A year later they officially founded the Okoa Project and were awarded $10,000 grant funding from the MIT IDEAS global challenge, an annual innovation, service and social entrepreneurship competition that aims to tackle quality of life issues for people around the world.

Patients in rural Tanzania are often unable to receive healthcare due to their inability to travel long distances to healthcare facilities. Even if the patients have access to a vehicle (most likely a motorbike), the lack of infrastructure could make it a slow and treacherous journey. This is especially an issue for patients seeking emergency medical treatment and woman facing childbirth complications.

The Okoa Project’s ambulance cart is made of locally-sourced, cheap materials and can be attached to any motorbike to turn it into a life-saving transportation device. The cart consists of a removable stretcher that can be attached in two different positions depending on the patient’s condition; two seats for passengers, such as a midwife or family member, to accompany the patient; a steel frame and a fitted tarp to provide protection from the natural elements; and dual-shock suspension on both wheels to minimise discomfort while travelling.

“If you’re sick or pregnant, riding on the back of a motorcycle for three hours is uncomfortable, and people try not to use them. Women often give birth on the side of the road,” said the Okoa Project’s Business Lead, Eva Boal, in an MIT news article.

“Our ambulance carts are comfortable, so a woman can lie down rather than bouncing on the back of a motorcycle, and she can bring a family member with her,” continued Boal.

The team are currently finalising the development and testing of their prototype ambulance cart in Mbeya, Tanzania. Their end goal is to create an organisation that can be “run by the community and work for the community.”

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