On Three Wheels
Bringing Health Services to Communities in Rural Darfur
In Umdukhun, a remote village in Darfur, a lack of transportation and infrastructure as well as hard-to-reach medical facilities hamper local communities’ access to healthcare.
The distance between London and Birmingham – this is how long a person, often in urgent need of medical assistance, needs to travel to see a trained nurse or a doctor.
But these are not the only factors putting local populations at risk, many years of tribal clashes make it difficult for neighbouring villages to co-exist.
In an already complex environment, this makes delivering humanitarian assistance even more challenging.
International Medical Corps started working in Umdukhun in 2007, setting up the village’s first and only health facility. Since then, the organisation has extended its support to three of Umdukhun’s neighbouring areas - Murdaf, Kabar and Garaya. This way, International Medical Corps reaches populations outside of Umdukhun who would normally struggle to reach the town due to tribal tensions.
Although the three clinics outside of Umdukhun are equipped to treat several conditions, some cases still need to be referred to the main facility in Umdukhun. This journey takes between five and six hours and a donkey cart is often the only means of transportation. This is where the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) crucially stepped in.
Their donation of a three-wheeled ambulance is nothing short of a gift from above. Operated by community health workers, the ambulance quickly transports urgent cases to Umdukhun from the neighbouring villages and thanks to its three-wheel design - it can travel off road, reaching areas a car wouldn’t.
An ambulance might sound like a trivial contribution, but in rural Darfur, it is a vital as well as sustainable intervention. It is not only suitable for the terrain – the tricycle is also more affordable than a car – both to operate and to repair.
Importantly, the ambulance saves lives. Patients that used to travel for several hours to reach the main medical facility now reach it in 60 minutes. International Medical Corps' team on the ground has already been able to record a drop in maternal mortality and more encouraging results are likely to follow.
Although rarely discussed, a strong and sustainable referral system is a key component of successful health service delivery - and the ambulance makes a tremendous contribution to the welfare of conflict-affected communities in rural Darfur.