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4-wheeled help for rural province

A heavy-duty tuk-tuk brings emergency transport  and health care to remote Siem Reap villages.

Photo by:

KYLE SHERER 

A unique tuk-tuk designed by Phil Starling (pictured on vehicle with Sarah Ferry) is taken on two medical tours every weekday.

ABeefed-up tuk-tuk drawn by a quad bike is on the front lines of medical care in rural Siem Reap, racing over dirt tracks to bring patients to hospital and taking medical staff and equipment to remote communities. The tuk-tuk ambulance is the brainchild of Phil Starling, founder of the NGO Making a Difference for Good (MAD), and it's proved so successful that he hopes to construct a fleet of them.

In rural Siem Reap, getting a crash victim to a hospital quickly may be the difference between life and death. But motos and tuk-tuks are no match for violent weather and rugged terrain, especially for the critically injured, so Starling built the medical tuk-tuk.

 "The [medical] tuk-tuk was designed because when we tried last year in the wet to get people to hospital, we struggled to get through the country tracks," he said. "We needed something big enough to carry a few children and a mother, or a stretcher, and all our medical equipment. We couldn't find a tuk-tuk like that, so we had to make our own. We took the framework of a normal tuk-tuk and extended it."

The team reinforced the wheels and installed heavy-duty suspension from a pick-up truck. They also stripped it of anything that could be stained, so it can be washed down afterwards.

When the tuk-tuk carriage was finished, it was large enough to hold a stretcher and strong enough to handle a rough ride, but only a quad bike had the muscle to pull it. Although the quad also needed modification.

Without our tuk-tuk, he might ave lost his leg."

"The back end of the quad was stripped down, and we had to beef up the chassis. Then we had to rewire it to take the tuk-tuk lights."
Starling was the first to drive the machine because, he said, Cambodians weren't game enough. "How fast can it go?" he asked. "Put it this way. Going up Route 6 when we were testing it, we were overtaking cars and trucks."

The tuk-tuk has already been involved in high-stakes rescue operations.


Photo by:
KYLE SHERER

A unique tuk-tuk designed by Phil Starling (pictured on vehicle with Sarah Ferry ) is taken on two medical tours every weekday.  

"In one case, someone on a motorbike was hit by a truck as our medical tuk-tuk was going by," said Starling. "It was really nasty. The motorcycle driver was trapped under the truck, but we were able to put him on the tuk-tuk and take him to hospital. Without the tuk-tuk, he might have lost the leg."

"In another case, a patient was unable to get on a moto to go to hospital due to a broken leg. We dressed the wound and laid him in the tuk-tuk. It's just much more comfortable because it's spacious and you can keep people laying flat, put a cushion under the leg, and get them into hospital."

Loeng Vinh, a veterinary nurse who performs cow castrations, acts as driver, translator and medical assistant, and is aided by a volunteer English nurse, Sarah Ferry.

The team, whose services are free, treats a number of sick children with bloated stomachs, a tell-tale sign of worms. Also common are dry skin, breathing difficulties and headaches. Occasionally they clean and bandage an infected cut or bite.

Ferry said, "I treated a little kid once who chopped the end of his fingers off. When we saw him, the hand was tied together with a strip of curtain."

Starling said the MAD tuk-tuk and medical team, which is completely donor funded, have built a reputation in the communities they work in.

"We've transported people into town with all sorts of injuries. Burns, nasty cuts, people who injured their feet after getting them caught in the wheels of a bike during a crash. We've become known as the medical program that will help people at all times. People will see the tuk-tuk going by and stop it and ask for help."

Twice every weekday, workers in the MAD medical program take the tuk-tuk to different communities.

Treatments are usually basic, but when there is a crisis, they say the heavy-duty tuk-tuk saves the day.

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