When it comes to the complex landscape of international humanitarian aid, technology interventions and social entrepreneurship, Africa is at a juncture more promising than ever before. Many of the accounts from attendees to the recent TEDGlobal 2007 Conference in Tanzania, held by the Technology, Entertainment and Design organization are a case in point. Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of M.I.T’s Technology Review, surveyed forthcoming solutions presented at TED that could be a recipe for progress and success, making the following compelling statement in his New York Times Slipstream Column (June-17):* “In truth, Africa will need both investment in entrepreneurialism and aid, intelligently directed toward education, health and food.”* This essential equation is at the heart of the objectives behind one of the projects the social and humanitarian initiative Designmatters at Art Center College of Design [www.artcenter.edu/designmatters/projects/mpala] (http://www.artcenter.edu/designmatters/projects/mpala) has been developing for the past few months in collaboration with a small mobile health clinic in Northern Kenya, Mpala (mpala.org/mct).
In the Laikipia and Samburu districts of northwest Kenya, nomadic, poverty-stricken tribes often suffer from a lack of basic medical care, as well as access to education and family planning. A small community-based organization, Mpala Community Trust (MCT) is one of the sole health-care providers in the region. MCT’s existing integrated mobile health clinics make use of trucks, camel convoys, bicycles and foot travel to bring “door-to-door” service to these scattered populations. With a multi-disciplinary team composed of Art Center alumni, staff, senior faculty and a students, Designmatters structured a partnership with MCT to develop a multi-component design intervention to the existing mobile clinic operation. Key innovation components include a camel-packaging system to improve efficiency of mobile clinics; new solar-powered refrigeration units for transport by camel to carry vaccines and medicine requiring refrigeration, and the introduction of a comprehensive system of health education materials consisting of a picture-based messaging system designed for a non-literate, multi-ethnic audience.
There is enormous potential to expand and replicate this project model within any poor, rural area where camels or other pack animals are found and people are not served due to remote location – in Kenya and throughout the world. The concept is relatively simple: engage indigenous people and load-bearing animals to provide direct healthcare to underserved populations, training local community members in key roles to facilitate service delivery. The model has the potential to empower communities to eventually establish systems for their own basic healthcare, leading to expansion of economic opportunity while enhancing overall wellbeing.
The wide applicability and innovative dimension of the project were recognized at the World Bank—the Mpala Mobile Clinic proposal was one of the few select finalists in the 2007 Development Marketplace competition; presently a prototype of the system is under development in collaboration with Princeton University for field-testing in early 2008.