Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bicycles, NOT Wheelbarrows

Bike Ambulance Delivery - Salima District

Last week I had the opportunity to deliver bicycle ambulances donated by Silver Spire Church in Canada to 3 rural communities in Malawi. It was really special to meet the volunteers who will be using the bike ambulances to transport people living with HIV who need medical attention to clinics.

The stories from the recipients convinced me that the bikes and stretchers will make a huge difference:

The group in Nkhotakota said that a patient had died at home the day before because they couldn't transport him to the hospital.

In Dowa they explained that they have 8 bedridden patients that they can now transport to the clinic. They also said that having the bike will allow them to visit many more patients in one day.

In Salima district, the distance that we drove from the main road to the village spoke for itself (almost 20km on dirt road to the clinic). 

Delivery to Alinafe Hospital, Nkhotakota

Why bike ambulances?

If a Malawian living with HIV or AIDS needs medical attention and is unable to walk, getting to the clinic can be very difficult.

The bicycle ambulance is an innovative response to the needs of rural communities in Malawi. Due to extreme poverty, few health centres and high HIV infection rates, it is very challenging for sick people to get to the clinic. Many are carried, pushed in wheelbarrows or die bedridden because safe and dignified transport is not available.

Bicycle-ambulances provide a much safer alternative. By attaching a lightweight trailer and removable stretcher to the back of a bicycle, patients can be transported to clinics without risking further injury along the way. The relatively simple design enables the trailers and stretchers to be made locally with available materials. The ambulances also can be used to transport pregnant mothers and people who have passed away to the health care centres.

The bicycles can be used alone as well so that carers can visit more patients per day or carry out income generating activities to raise funds for their organizations.

Why home based care organizations?

In Malawi, community-based volunteers trained as HIV and AIDS educators, caregivers and/or advocates travel to neighboring communities and homes to care for those affected by the virus. Their ability to serve people is limited by their lack of transportation. By using a bicycle, a health care worker can see up to 5 times as many patients.

The home based carers really blew my mind. They work HARD as volunteers in grueling conditions. Many have very little but they choose to persevere for the wellbeing of their communities. They showed up to receive the bike ambulances singing and dancing and I found their gratitude overwhelming. A big thank you to both the home based care groups and Silver Spire Church for the difference that they are making.

Home based care volunteers, Salima District

Bike for AIDS Campaign
The World University Service of Canada runs the Bike for AIDS Campaign through which the ambulances and bikes are donated. Since I've arrived here in Malawi, the campaign has received support from my friends and family in Canada which has resulted in 5 ambulances (includes bike and stretcher) and one stand alone bicycle to be provided to home based care organizations in Malawi.

A big thank you to Christ Church United, Silver Spire Church, Aunt Pat & Uncle Max, Aunt Mary & Uncle Sandy, Beth, Michelle, Deb, Heather and my parents.

If you are interested in learning more about Bike for AIDS or making a donation, please check it out here!

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