THE circumstances of the death of a woman from Kasur in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital have resulted in efforts by the Punjab chief minister to improve ambulance response times. Narrow streets and traffic had made it difficult for regular ambulances to reach the patients quickly. Hence the provincial government came up with an innovative idea: motorcycle ambulances to be operated by the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122). Comprising a fleet of 900 motorbikes and trained paramedics, these two-wheeler ambulances are equipped with first-aid kits, burn kits, automated external defibrillators and other vital life-saving equipment to deal with emergencies. This project will start off with 200 motorcycles operating in Lahore; then, gradually expand to nine divisional headquarters and later 36 districts. While this project has the potential to save lives in a congested city of dense alleyways and choked traffic lanes, it must work in conjunction with hospital ambulance services. First responders trained as paramedics must know when to call for ambulances when the emergency warrants hospital care. Given the Punjab chief minister’s penchant for innovation, his project would work successfully if female paramedics are also inducted. The move will prove useful in Punjab’s rural backwaters where tradition rules especially when it comes to pregnancy-related emergencies.
Meanwhile, inadequate public ambulance services have led to increasing mortality rates across the country. In the case of Sindh, the government has long relinquished its responsibilities. Without the dedication of Karachi’s NGOs (the Edhi Foundation, Chippa and the Aman Foundation), many more lives would have been lost. Given this kind of shameful neglect of healthcare, it’s time the Sindh government took a leaf out of Punjab’s book. It must establish a well-equipped ambulance service within its rescue operations — the latter was launched last month with 24 ambulances for 13 public hospitals. Replicating Punjab’s motorcycle project can work in Karachi but only once its ambulances operate efficiently.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2017