Mobile Clinics, Kenyan Style: On Camelback

To deliver refrigerated medicines to remote parts of Kenya, one group has developed solar-powered mobile clinics, carried by camels.

Camel clinic

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.

Read more about the project at Change Observer. You can see more information on the clinics at Design Matters.


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.