July 14, 2015

By Faith Leleu

With over 40 years of experience delivering emergency care to people cut off from medical assistance, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is well-versed in the challenges of operating in areas that can be difficult to reach.

Whether dealing with disasters such as earthquakes, floods or tsunamis or with the simple lack of roads in many places where they operate, MSF teams in the field must often work hard to reach patients in remote or inaccessible locations.



Carrying out patients in critical condition

For many years, MSF and other organizations have relied upon rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser in order to negotiate difficult terrain and marginal transportation conditions. But while these and other vehicles have helped bring MSF’s medical personnel into places where they are most needed, they have not always helped to bring patients out. In many emergency contexts, MSF field medical workers are not equipped to treat critical cases on location, so must often try to bring patients to a better-equipped facility — and the back of a utility vehicle is not always well-suited to carrying patients in critical condition.

That is why MSF Canada’s Program Unit, the organization’s in-house innovation team, recently reached out to Tufport, a manufacturer in Alberta who makes ambulance inserts that can be added to regular pick-up trucks. The result is a set of slide-in units, designed by Tufport according to MSF specifications, that can fit in the back of pick-up trucks that MSF is already using in the field to transport cargo. As Stephen MacKay of the Program Unit explains: “On one hand, the vehicles will retain their capacity to continue the kind of work they do now. On the other, during an emergency response they can be transitioned to serve as ambulances. The addition of the ambulance inserts significantly increases the versatility of vehicles already in the field.”




Made in Canada for use in Africa

The vehicles used by MSF in the field are not currently available in Canada. As a result, Tufport and MSF teams collaborated closely to ensure the development of units that would be suitable for use with existing MSF vehicles. The units are now in transit. Both the manufacturer and MSF staff are eager for their arrival in the field. Tufport’s Krista Enggelland says, “We would be delighted to see them in use in Africa.”

The durability of the inserts makes them an ideal and cost-effective addition to transform a truck into an emergency medical vehicle. They will be crucial for patient referrals to clinics and hospitals, and for outreach programs to remote areas (for instance with HIV/AIDS campaigns). More importantly will be their use in cases of emergencies and natural disasters, where they will be supporting other vehicles that are not as well-equipped. 




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