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"My mother used to say that making way for someone is like giving charity,” says an ambulance driver, recalling the day he saw yet another child lose her life. “But one car wasn’t budging at all.”

The child in the ambulance had split her head open, but not everything was lost. If they reached the hospital in time, the bleeding could be contained. But the driver remembers how one car was blocking the route.


Did you know that most hemorrhages — the common cause of civilian accidents — only result in death because patients do not reach a medical facility in time?


As he talks about the girl breathing her last against the din of blaring horns and his ambulance siren, the horror of a life lost — one that could have easily been saved — sinks in.

This is a scene from the film campaign, Raasta Dou, a collaborative project envisioned by CityLights Productions and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to create awareness for citizens to yield right of way for emergency vehicles in jam-packed traffic.

The three-part video series traces one child’s fight against time and life through inter-connected narratives that end up highlighting an ordinary citizen’s complicity in everyday tragedies.

CityLights Productions' new videos are a public service call for giving way to ambulances and medical vehicles. —Photo courtesy CityLights Productions
CityLights Productions' new videos are a public service call for giving way to ambulances and medical vehicles. —Photo courtesy CityLights Productions

The Golden Hour

The fight between life and death usually balances on a matter of minutes. In the video, the child loses her life because a single vehicle came in her way and she could not reach the hospital in time. Unfortunately, this isn’t the rare stuff of fiction— studies have shown that most hemorrhages (the common cause of civilian accidents) only result in death because patients do not reach a medical facility in time.

“The first hour after the accident is known as the ‘golden hour’,” says Dr Seemin Jamali, who heads the emergency ward at Jinnah Medical Center (JMC).

This is often also the hour when ambulances are blasting their sirens on full volume, hoping to find some way to get to the patient or the doctor in time.

As part of the campaign, ICRC with APNAA Institute of Public Health conducted observational studies at various roads and intersections in Karachi. They discovered that despite the time of the day and the amount of traffic on the road, ambulances face the same difficulty in persuading vehicles and motorbikes to give way. Aside from blasting the ambulance sirens, none of the other measures (such flashing red lights and tailgating by a vehicle) are successful in warning commuters.

The study also found that most people do not stop to help in case of accidents or emergencies, and that often, the behaviour of a single individual or vehicle impacts the ambulance’s response time.

Enduring abuse

While the videos are based around the simple action of making room for an ambulance, the campaign itself seems to be aiming for a bigger mission: sensitising citizens to the plight of healthcare workers and especially ambulance drivers.

The campaign’s press release emphasises on cultivating a culture of respect towards these men, who put their own lives at risk for others, and often have to deal with abuse at the hands of patient’s families.

“There have been multiple cases of drivers beaten up by relatives as the ambulance got stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital,” the press release quotes the dean of AIPH, Professor Lubna Baig, who also oversaw the research behind the project.

Source: Violence against health care: Results from a multi-centre study in Karachi
Source: Violence against health care: Results from a multi-centre study in Karachi

Her research found that the greatest amount of physical and verbal violence (60 per cent) comes from attendants of patients. In the absence of any institutional provisions to deal with this kind of violence, ICRC is hoping to work with partners in the health industry to improve these drivers’ working conditions.

According to the press release, “There are no legal provisions or administrative arrangements that would make it compulsory for drivers to get out of the way of an ambulance on an emergency run.”

Najum Abbasi, who is the ICRC spokesman in Pakistan, believes a new law could help rectify people’s behaviour. This law would make it compulsory for vehicles to make room for ambulances. “For this, cooperation of the police, city authorities, and ambulance services is necessary,” he says.

The videos are a poignant first step; institutional policies can only have an impact when a problem is taken seriously by the people involved.

The harsh side of life

Director and writer Hamza Bangash spent some time with ambulance drivers to understand nuances of their daily plight before heading to the story board. “You really see it in their eyes,” Hamza says. “These people have gone through a lot, [they have] experienced the harsh side of life.”

The CityLights Creative Director’s time with ambulance drivers led him to conceptualise the videos, which he says are inspired by Paul Haggis's Oscar-winning film Crash. The result is a powerful three-part series of interconnected narratives, the first of which is based on the experience of ambulance drivers.

The first video follows the perspective of an ambulance driver who is unable to reach the hospital in time. —Photo courtesy CityLights Productions
The first video follows the perspective of an ambulance driver who is unable to reach the hospital in time. —Photo courtesy CityLights Productions

The videos are rife with emotions, primarily frustration and guilt, but most poignantly, they demand the viewer to pay attention to the thousands of thankless heroes who roam our streets every day; whether those be people who help out in the time of an accident, or ambulance drivers, doing their daily ‘job’ of helping us out.

“It is disheartening to see that these hard working people have learnt to put up with the abuse they have done nothing to deserve,” Hamza adds.

He cites an anecdote he heard from a driver who has been working with Edhi for over 30 years. The driver was abused by a patient’s family in Lyari; they insulted him and beat him up, but all he said to say when remembering the incident was, “Yeh sab Allah ki marzi hai” [It’s all up to Allah].