The launch and handover of a new ambulatory vessel is expected to provide a boost to healthcare services in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.
Through a combination of fundraising mostly coordinated by Italian charity For African Children and marine and medical industry donations of equipment, medical kit and engines the vessel, dubbed Bateau Ambulance, could prove a vital lifeline for many villages in Congo, especially those for whom traditional road transport is restricted.
To call living conditions in Congo ‘harsh’ would be an understatement. Still reeling from a bloody civil war that left more than 5 million slaughtered between 1998 and 2003, Congo’s average life expectancy is 49, UNICEF figures claim, with malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea-related illnesses being the leading causes of death. In 2014, the Population Reference Bureau calculated
Congo’s infant mortality rate as being 109 per 1,000 live births (in contrast, between three to four infant deaths are recorded per 1,000 live births for the UK, France, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Greece and Australia, for example).
Lack of access to adequate healthcare facilities is exacerbated in the country’s most remote villages. “The North of Congo doesn’t have streets and the only way to help people is to reach them by river,” comments Mike Shedivy, EMEA president of outboard manufacturer Mercury Marine, which contributed to the Bateau Ambulance project. “With this boat, medical responders can reach those villages quicker and get folks the medical care they need immediately; increasing their chances of survival.” Even in those areas featuring road access, a few days of rain can transform these facilities into impassable mud baths.
To date, many Congolese areas have made do with pirogues to transport persons requiring medical attention to hospital facilities. However, as most of these craft types are hand-made, they present an obvious safety risk, especially when up against strong currents, and constitute far from comfortable rides for seriously ill patients. There is also the ‘minor’ detail of encountering hippos in certain rivers, providing an extra layer of danger and abruptly terminating many a riverine journey.
In response, Bateau Ambulance is intended to take medical and healthcare services directly to the people. The craft is primarily tasked with providing neo-natal and paediatric healthcare services, as well as serving as a response unit for adult emergencies, and will service the Kwilu River, a tributary of the 4,000km-long Congo River thus providing a link between this water stretch and the Vanga Evangelical Hospital, located at the Kwilu’s southern banks.
Staffed by volunteers from For African Children and specialists from the Vanga hospital, the vessel will be able to conduct services ranging from vaccination programmes and the hosting of specialist clinics, to provision of a sterile floating environment for paediatric surgery and childbirths.
The vessel was constructed by Cremona, Italy-based boatbuilder Teknokat Marine, which has previously specialised in customised yachts and small accommodation craft. Measuring 9.2m in length by 3.5m in beam, the vessel incorporates two fully equipped medical stations (one dedicated to neo-natal emergencies, and featuring a transportable incubator). In total, the vessel’s area comes to 35m².
Bateau Ambulance is fitted with a pair of 45kW outboards, donated to the project by Brunswick subsidiary Mercury Marine. Teknokat Marine has calculated that these engines will grant the craft a top speed of more than 30km per hour (or just over 16knots).
While the vessel’s livery has been kept fairly basic, the graphics have been made reflective for high visibility, enabling people to clearly identify the hydro-ambulance in darker sections of the rainforest zones.
Bateau Ambulance was officially launched at Teknokat’s yard in September and, as Ship & Boat International goes to press, may possibly now be installed in Congo. No doubt, this floating facility will prove its worth in saving lives in remote locations, as well as demonstrating the ability of small craft manufacturers to create customised solutions for a range of purposes.