BU Today

Health & Wellness + In the World

Pedal Power

Outreach reviewed: Donating bikes to health workers in Zambia

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Click on the slide show above to hear SPH Professor Candace Miller talk about how bikes can save lives in Zambia.

Small world, big needs. One steady focus at BU Today is sharing stories about outreach, human to human and program to program, and ways members of this University community extend that concept, crossing barriers (physical and otherwise) to offer hands-on help, advice, and wisdom. This week, we’re returning to some of those inspirational accounts.

In the remote villages of Zambia, the difference between life and death can sometimes be two wheels.

About 15 percent of adults ages 15 to 49 are infected with HIV in this southern African nation; last year AIDS led to 56,000 deaths. Almost nobody owns a car in Zambia, and many of the sick live more than an hour’s walk from the nearest health-care facility, hampering both routine and emergency care.

In this part of the world, says Candace Miller, a School of Public Health assistant professor of international health, a bicycle can be a lifesaver, bringing health-care workers to their patients, serving as an ambulance, and helping families that have lost a breadwinner to AIDS survive economically by allowing them to ferry farm goods to market or start a bicycle taxi service.

Miller is leading a team of Boston University researchers who want to quantify the impact of bikes in Zambia by assessing the efforts of the nonprofit World Bicycle Relief, which recently began providing thousands of bikes to Zambian health-care workers and training locals in bike repair.

This past summer, Miller’s team, which includes Kirk Dearden, an SPH associate professor of international health, Kathryn Reichert (SPH’08), an SPH data analyst, and about 22 Zambian survey workers, traveled to remote villages in northern Zambia and surveyed households affected by HIV/AIDS, comparing households in which caregivers had bicycles to those without them.

“We were looking at indicators such as frequency and quality of care and the type of services the caregivers provide,” says Miller. They are analyzing their first batch of data and will return to Zambia for more survey work in March 2009, after the rainy season, to assess how “the power of a bike” evolves.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

This story originally ran October 30, 2008.

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