Picture a mobile clinic, and you might think of a big, high-tech SUV kitted with tiny lab facilities. But in Kenya? Not so much. As Earnest Beck points out over at Design Observer, camels are the most efficient and cheap transportation in those regions of Kenya populated by nomads, and lacking serviceable roads. And that has its own problems. According to Beck:
For the past decade, the Kenyan-based Nomadic Communities Trust (NCT) has sent camel convoys — the most efficient and cost-effective means of transportation—to the region with medical supplies. But poor equipment (basically, wooden boxes tied to the camels with abrasive sisal rope) and lack of refrigeration meant that basic medicines such as vaccines could not be made available.
In 2005, the NCT partnered with Designmatters at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and Princeton University's Institute of Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM), a multidisciplinary research center in the general field of materials, on several prototypes for methods to preserve and transport medical supplies. A multifunctional system was developed made from bamboo to provide a lightweight, durable ergonomic saddle along with a saddleback structure that holds a compartmented refrigerated unit and solar power generator. The saddles improve the efficiency of the loads carried over rugged terrain. The crystalline solar panels can also be deployed by the mobile clinics for lighting and refrigeration in the field.
The project took just a few thousand dollars to build, and it was tested out stateside using camels at the Bronx Zoo. The organizers think it could be up and running by 2010, if funding comes through.