Since our last post, The Okoa Project has been making huge progress toward making motorcycle ambulance trailers a reality for vulnerable communities without access to healthcare. We have been working for 2 years with TOBFC to develop safe transportation to people who cannot be reached by cars due to narrrow, rough roads. Women in labor and trauma patients instead must walk, bike or motorcycle to healthcare, all of which can exacerbate medical issues. However, with the Okoa Ambulance, patients sit with a family member/midwife in the trailer for continued care, which will improve their chances of survival. Throughout the last 6 months, we have completely redesigned the ambulance, had 8 interns through the Kubuni-MUST collaboration, and participated in MIT’s DeltaV accelerator program.
From March to May, Kubuni facilitated an Okoa internship where 8 amazing MUST students worked with our engineering team to continue product development. Together with the Kubuni Centre, we created an 8 week engineering program for them to brainstorm, design and build new attachments and stretchers. Every Saturday, these students made the trek from MUST to Kubuni to work in the shop and skype with Okoa mentors. Through this program, they were able to further Okoa designs and do more testing with the ambulances in the villages. We are hoping to continue this collaboration moving forward.
After Emily and Eva graduated from MIT (woooo) and Sade came back from her internship in Chile, we were over the moon to be in the same city again. Working side by side every day, for 10 hours a day, was infinitely better than being separated by a whole continent and other working full time jobs. We started making progress 100x faster than before.
We began our summer by doing a deep dive into the questions that we still had. We interviewed trauma doctors and gynaecologists about how to safely transport patients, collaborated with other engineers who had experience developing motorcycle trailers, and received feedback and ideas from EMTs who have worked in urban and rural areas. We read hundreds of documents on ambulance, road and vehicle regulations in various countries to ensure that we were designing to pre existing standards. Finally, we began attending seminars on rural health and emergency medicine to better understand others’ field experiences.
And so one month after graduation, we had a completely new design. We had taken all of the Mbarali community feedback we collected August 2017, all the testing data from our 3 trips to Tanzania, all the feedback from MUST students and all the information we collected in the beginning of the summer to create Okoa 4.0. The new product was lighter, safer, more stable, and more versatile than before and better addressed the design criteria.
Throughout July, we had design reviews with mentors from D-Lab, from car companies, and from fabrication classes. It was incredible the amount of support and help we received from everyone. They questioned every one of our assumptions and design decisions, and the countless iterations ensured that we were creating the safest trailer we could for our end users. By mid August, we were ready to build and test along with an old teammate, Jimmie Harris.
As it is with engineering, this will not be the final design, but it is pretty close. With the summer coming to a close, we are wrapping up here in the US and are excited to be heading back to Uyole to work out of the Kubuni Centre. We will be building ambulances there, obtaining government approval, and rolling out ambulances to the communities. We can’t wait to get out there and make this a reality. It has been a long journey for Okoa, but we know that each step is important to ensure that we create a robust, safe and effective ambulance for rural communities.