The emergency saddle was initially developed between 2012 and 2014 in response to a request from a British NGO, Healthprom, who were working to reduce maternal mortality rates in Balkh province in northern Afghanistan.
A new clinic had been built in the main village and women were encouraged to give birth there in preference to a traditional home birth. Women living in outlying villages, some several hours travel on foot, asked for a safe and comfortable method to reach the clinic. One of the previous methods of carrying pregnant women can be seen on the right; a small donkey with a very heavy load, onto which the women sits uncomfortably.
A search for a ready-made solution did not produce anything, so a new solution had to be found. We started by finding out what type of transport was currently used, what types of animals were available, and what the local women wanted to use. From this we drew a list of requirements, looking from the the perspective of the women, the saddle and the animal.
We studied traditional saddle design from different parts of the world, and from history, for inspiration. We also contacted saddle makers with experience of working in low resource settings. Chris Garrett, a harness development specialist, had recently written a guide to making a simple back-protector using sacking and straw, which we found to be very useful when making the saddle base.
One of the suggestions from the women in Afghanistan was to make a saddle along similar lines to the one they already used, but using 'air bags' as stuffing. This was an intriguing idea, and one that we developed and tested further.
A number of saddles were taken to Afghanistan for local testing and feedback, and a design was agreed.
We then produced a detailed set of instructions to make the saddle, including full size patterns, step-by-step instructions and a complete set of videos. These instructions were used by Healthprom to train local village tailors in saddle-making.