DHAKA, Feb 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An
inexpensive, solar-powered ambulance that can fit down narrow
laneways is set to hit the road in rural Bangladesh this year,
its manufacturers say.
The three-wheeled van, as well-equipped as ambulances used
in Bangladesh’s cities, runs entirely on solar power – including
solar battery power at night – and can be used in rural areas
with no grid electricity, according to the developers.
A Bangladeshi university, a government organisation and a
local vehicle manufacturer who are collaborating on the vehicle
say it should for the first time bring ambulance service to
rural areas without it.
The vehicle is in the field testing stage and there are
plans to launch it by the end of 2017.
In many rural areas, emergency patients are often taken to
hospital in hand-pulled rickshaw vans. But the new, small
three-wheeler ambulance will fit along narrow roads in rural
areas where it is difficult for larger ambulances to run.
Zahidul Islam, a farmer in Saturia in Manikgonj district,
said that when his first child was born his wife had a difficult
delivery and was taken to the nearby clinic in a hand-pulled
rickshaw – a trip that took too much time.
“If I had taken her to hospital a little earlier, she would
have had fewer complications,” he said. But larger vehicles
could not reach his house, he said.
He believes that faster, smaller ambulances would be helpful
for rural people.
SAFE AND COMFORTABLE
Kamal Hossain, a driver who has tested a prototype of the
ambulance, said that it was safe and comfortable to drive on
both smooth and rough surfaces, and went at a good speed.
A.K.M. Abdul Malek Azad, the project’s team leader and a
professor at BRAC University in Dhaka, said that most rural
community health clinics cannot afford conventional ambulance
services, but that the new ambulance would be cheap to buy and
“I thought a low-cost ambulance service would be a good idea
for these rural clinics. And by using solar power we can reduce
operational costs and save the environment,” he said.
The ambulance is expected to cost $1,900 to $2,500, a
fraction of the price of conventional ambulances, which can cost
at least $30,000 in Bangladesh.
BRAC University’s Control and Applications Research Centre
is running the project in association with vehicle manufacturer
Beevatech. Financing comes from the World Bank through
Bangladesh’s Infrastructure Development Company Limited, with
seed funding from the U.S. Institute of Electrical and
RACE CAR INSPIRATION
Azad said that, as far as he is aware, there is no
equivalent elsewhere in the world of the solar-powered
three-wheeler ambulance his team is developing. The inspiration
for it came from solar racing cars in Australia.
“I thought if researchers can develop a solar racing car,
there is potential to develop a solar ambulance,” he said. A
vehicle that would not be reliant for power on Bangladesh’s
overburned national power grid would be a bonus, he explained.
The new ambulance can accommodate three people. It has a
maximum speed of 15-20 km per hour (9-12 mph), and a range of up
to 50 km (30 miles).
By day it is powered by four 100-watt solar panels on the
roof. At night it runs on four 12-volt batteries, which are
charged from the solar panels.
“The last layer of the development includes installation of
a battery charging station (at a hospital or other site close
by) that is completely fuelled by a solar canopy,” Azad said.
“This step is taken to ensure complete independence of these
electrically assisted rickshaws from the national grid.”
The ambulance’s battery can recharge in three to four hours,
Azad said his team has built and tested five prototypes over
the past year. The new ambulances are expected to hit the roads
at the end of 2017.
He expects that buyers will include community clinics across
the country run by the BRAC non-governmental organisation. Azad
says officials of the BRAC Health and Nutrition Programme have
assured the team they will consider using the vehicles in their
Dr. Shahana Nazneen of the BRAC Health and Nutrition
Population Programme said that the vehicles are cost-effective
and should be affordable for rural hospitals.
Habibur Rahman Khan, an additional secretary at the Health
Ministry in charge of hospitals, agreed that the low-cost
ambulance would help the ministry boost health facilities in
“We will certainly consider purchasing (them) for rural
hospitals,” he said.
(Reporting by Mushfique Wadud; editing by James Baer and Laurie
Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
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