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City's siren-blaring ambulances

Shihab Sarkar | July 03, 2019 00:00:00

The wailing sirens that nearly rupture the road users' eardrums at dreadful Dhaka traffic gridlocks are invariably those of ambulances. It has now become a nuisance. Vehicles appear to remain perennially ground to a halt at jams. Given the highly noticeable presence of ambulances on the roads of the city, an outsider might be led to believe that Dhaka is filled with emergency patients, with hospitals enjoying a ubiquitous presence. It's true, though partly. Likewise, the compounds of every hospital or the nearby roads remain filled with ambulances.

The amazing aspect of the matter is most of the ambulances are phony. They run under private ownership. As per the prevailing norm, an ambulance has to apply for registration under a hospital or an organisation; there is no option for operating an ambulance privately. But everything is possible through adoption of dubious means in this country. A large number of ambulances speeding through the Dhaka streets are registered as mere microbuses. After getting the registration, their owners convert them into an ambulance. The very thought of turning a microbus into an ambulance overnight and starting carrying patients, with sirens blaring, will give people the shudders in developed countries. As an idea, it is atrocious --- and indulgence in a criminal act of sorts. Of late, the spectacle of these ambulances, many emerging from ramshackle microbuses, has become quite common in Dhaka. Newspapers continue to publish reports and photographs of these so-called ambulances. According to people having knowledge of the business, pressing microbuses into service as ambulances by unscrupulous quarters has lately become a lucrative venture.

There is an alarming aspect to the whole episode. The privately run ambulances are plagued by scores of drawbacks. Many of them do not have even the elementary medical appliances in place. Instead of medics, a number of these ambulances employ half-educated young men or women to serve as attendants of patients on the moving vehicles. Few ambulance owners bother to think about the possibility of the patients' decline in condition on the way to hospital. This spectre is most feared in the cases of heart patients. Upon receiving the application for licence of an ambulance, the authorities must ensure that the said vehicle is equipped with all requirements. An ambulance should have in place an oxygen cylinder with a face mask, a stretcher for carrying patients, a siren and some other emergency arrangements. According to insiders, these prerequisites are allegedly not checked on strictly. For, initially the vehicle is given registration as a conventional microbus. It is only later that it is converted into an improvised ambulance. Although passed off as ambulances, the inside views of some of these siren-blaring vehicles are horrifying. Notwithstanding the fact that the ambulances have the semblance of a patient-friendly atmosphere, lots of heavy and hazardous objects are found there dumped beside a patient's bed. They include even CNG cylinders kept in a stack.

The genuine ambulances that operate in the capital belong to Dhaka Metropolitan Ambulance Owners' Association. There are a set of rules for acquiring a licence for an ambulance from BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority). When minting money privately from ambulance business is the objective, few bother to apply for licences as a member of the ambulance owners' association. They first approach the BRTA to get the licence of a microbus. On being officially registered, they find the task of remodelling the vehicle quite easier.

This is how the nation's healthcare sector, in a place no less than Dhaka, is run. Apart from a few, both the government and private hospitals lack an ideal atmosphere. A lot of them are overwhelmingly manned by interns. Expecting perfectly operating ambulances from these hospitals is just a pipedream.

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