UNDP Ethiopia provides “camel ambulances” for desert health care

Jun 8, 2009

UNDP in Ethiopia is providing 145 “camel ambulances” to help rural pastoralists in remote desert areas reach nearby health posts for emergency care.

The initiative is part of a Mobile Health Service set up by the regional authority in Afar, in the northeast of the country. Some 87 percent of the 1.4 million inhabitants in this region are rural dwellers, and accessibility by car is greatly hindered by the poor road and climatic conditions. As transportation is a major challenge, the camels are now not only being used as traditional beasts of burden, but also to transport seriously ill patients to health facilities. This is a job that requires special training by experienced community camel trainers, to instill discipline and follow new and different instructions than they are used to. 

UNDP in 2007 provided US$ 200,000 to the Afar Bureau of Health to set up this first-of-its kind health service, to reach pastoral communities in desert areas, in line with the five-year Regional Strategic Development Plan (2007-2011) which espouses the Millennium Development Goals.  The funds were used to train 56 unemployed young women and men to provide basic curative and preventive health services, including guidance in personal hygiene and maternal and child care. The Afar health bureau also paid the salaries of the trained health extension workers, and for their medical kits.
The health extension workers are the initial health care providers for about 140,000 pastoralists in 28 kebeles, or towns. Afar Health Bureau Chief Ato Awol Wogris Mohammed says the initiative is working well.

“The health service being delivered by the extension workers has been more beneficial to pastoralists, as it is mobile, and there is a plan to expand the service to other parts of the region.” he said. Of the approximate 800 health workers needed to cover the entire region, almost half have been trained and deployed to about 200 health posts.  An additional 200 are in training.