In rural Zimbabwe, electric tricycles are saving lives

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By Derick Matsengarwodzi/

HARARE – Margret Hali, 34, says she owes her life to an electric tricycle.

Last summer, the villager from Igava, 108km east of Harare, Zimbabwe, grew sick with malaria. At home alone, her condition worsened. Day after day, she lolled listlessly in the sun, desperate, but helpless.

A few days in, her rescuers arrived, riding a hamba: a three-wheeled cart powered by sustainably-produced electricity.

They were Igava Clinic staff, making routine rounds to check up on their patients. After a series of quick observations, they helped Hali into the truck-bed back of the vehicle.

“I was very sick, and not sure what would happen to me,” Hali recalls.

The driver deftly steered the narrow hamba through the network of footpaths, aware of Hali’s frail body, until they reached the wider gravel road, where the vehicle was able to accelerate safely. Soon at the clinic, Hali received the treatment that saved her.

A year later, she reflects on the experience. “Since the hambas were introduced in 2019, they have been very helpful to us,” Hali says. “Before, we had problems getting reliable transport to the clinic.”

Before the hambas arrived, travelling to Igava Clinic was complicated for the 6,900 villagers in its catchment area.

Pregnant women found themselves particularly stuck. Due to the distance and the demands of time-bound work on the fields, many completely missed their routine check-ups and treatments.

Igava Clinic staff led by sister in charge Tebbie Chidembo going for an outreach programme

But in 2019, a social enterprise called Mobility for Africa (MFA) launched the pilot of their e-tricycle scheme, targeting Zimbabwean women in business with the sustainably-powered, and robust utility vehicles.

A group of pregnant women from Igava approached the company for help building an affordable off-grid transport solution.

“In 2019, three hambas are being used at the Igava Clinic, one by the staff and the other two by two village health workers serving communities within the Igava catchment area,” said Wilson Mok, who handles health sector engagement at MFA.

The hambas have been loaned, serviced and maintained by MFA technicians free of charge, he confirms.

Since then, the partnership has improved Igava Clinic’s outreach programmes, according to Tebbie Chidemo, 42, the acting sister-in-charge at the health facility.

“Our catchment area has four commercial farms, and people migrate a lot in search of work, so sometimes we used to miss our targets. After we received the hambas, we can now travel 22km away, further increasing our targets.”

Previously, to cover all villages, an outreach would take eight days, but the hambas have reduced it to only two days. Now, the health staff can pick up HIV medication and deliver it to patients, reducing defaulters by 50%.

Also, they transport four or five expectant mothers to the clinic for delivery each month, reducing home births.

Getting children protected with vaccinations has become easier too. In 2022, the Igava Clinic met, or exceeded their targets for polio and measles vaccination. HPV immunisation for girls shot up from just five in 2019 to 83 in 2021.