The Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2021 on Bringing Affordable Healthcare to the Last Mile in Bangladesh | The Daily Star
03:12 PM, April 11, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:09 PM, April 11, 2021

The Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2021 on Bringing Affordable Healthcare to the Last Mile in Bangladesh

The Commonwealth, a home of 54 countries, exists to support shared interests among nations in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations. Since its inception, the Commonwealth has worked to promote peace, human rights, democracy, and development regardless of the vast differences in economic conditions in these countries. Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth in 1972.

In recent times, with the integration of young people into development work, the Commonwealth established The Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) for the advancement of youth development agenda. Each year CYC mobilises the voices of young people by recognising youth-led development work through the Commonwealth Youth Awards. This year, with the grace of Almighty, I, Faysal Islam, have humbly received the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2021 award for my work at Safewheel.

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Safewheel is an affordable emergency medical service provider for the rural people of Bangladesh. I co-founded Safewheel with Rafiq Islam and Anas Hossain Makki, two of my friends, in the mission to bring affordable, available, and accessible emergency medical services to the last mile of Bangladesh. 

At Safewheel, we are solving a problem that is rooted in the core of our healthcare system. 65% of the country's total population live in rural Bangladesh. It may sound staggering that currently, around 1200 ambulances are serving this entire population. This means an ambulance has to help thousands of people and cover a lot of ground. The core reason behind ambulance unavailability in rural areas is mainly due to the cost of the vehicle. It does not allow the owner to charge a low amount from the villagers. Also because of the big size of the traditional ambulance, it faces difficulties while entering narrow village roads. 

To solve this problem, my team and I designed a cost-effective mini ambulance to help rural people access emergency medical transportation. Because of the small size, Safewheel ambulances can manoeuvre through most roads, while charging a modest amount. 

With this idea, we partnered with the local government division of Mohadevpur, Naogaon and designed our initial 4-month long pilot project there. The initial communication with the locals was not easy. They have very few ideas about the necessity of an ambulance when, for example, a woman's pregnancy cramp starts, or someone requires emergency attention. To better understand the experience of the people we were serving, the entire Safewheel team moved to Naogaon. We lived with them to understand the villager's pain points. We adapted our traditional strategies to educate people about the importance of an ambulance. We served the deprived community with our affordable solution and impacted the lives of pregnant women, children, and elderly people.

Every individual has the right to access healthcare facilities regardless of geographic status. Our country's recent economic development in the urban areas has made healthcare more accessible, but the poor rural segment is deprived of this access. Safewheel wants to fill this gap. We are working towards the dream of reaching every rural doorstep with affordable healthcare.

Safewheel partnered with UNDP Youth Co:Lab and EarthTech at the beginning of 2020. Both of the organizations have supported us during the pandemic. UNDP Youth Co:Lab also helped Safewheel showcase our work at the Commonwealth, which eventually led to this prestigious youth award.

I, Faysal Islam, as the winner of this year's Commonwealth Youth Award, will be involved and support the Commonwealth's efforts to empower young people. To bring positive social change, Bangladeshi youths have already been involved with different Commonwealth initiatives. I will try to accelerate the youth engagement by sharing my story and work to set a positive example of innovation to solve big challenges in communities and countries.

I will also represent the voice and perspectives of youth at the Commonwealth events and programs, both in Bangladesh and beyond. The Commonwealth believes in connecting young minds across the nations to solve issues such as education, employment, political participation and human rights, etc. The Commonwealth has 9 youth networks to promote and ensure youth participation across the countries and bring positive change. I will collaborate and adhere to these networks and work with the Secretariat to initiate youth-led programs.

The followings are the Commonwealth's youth networks:

  • Commonwealth Youth Council
  • Commonwealth Students Association
  • Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Entrepreneurs
  • Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Health Network
  • Commonwealth Youth Gender Equality Network

 

After liberation, the father of our nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said, "Build golden Bangla by building golden people''. The government is taking necessary action for the latter part. We, the youth, have the responsibility to start the process of building our country upon the dream of Sheikh Mujib by taking continuous actions. Safewheel's inception is an approach towards fulfilling that dream.

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