accident scene, ambulance
For illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Last week Shiju Shaij, a resident of Chunakkara village in Alapuzha district from the Indian state of Kerala had spent half the day making frantic calls to hospitals desperately seeking an ambulance for his 95-year-old grandmother, as she was complaining of chest pain.

Despite his attempts to contact several hospitals and ambulance providers, he couldn’t get one. Finally, the family took her to the hospital in a car, but it was too late, and the woman died. Following her death, Shaij felt that no one else should go through what he and his family went through. He bought an ambulance and decided to help others in need.

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Talking to the local media, he said that he intends to provide free of cost service to those who cannot afford to pay.

Ambulance shortage has been a long-standing issue in India, especially in rural areas. And COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse. We have come across many stories where patients, including those in critical conditions had to wait for hours for an ambulance to take them to the hospital. While some still make it to the hospital, many others have lost their lives, waiting for an ambulance.

Though several states in the country are ramping up their fleet to meet the demands due to COVID-19, it often falls short. Many ambulance drivers are also forced to work more than 12 hours a day due to the high number of patients. The state’s 108 helpline runs barely 100 ambulances in the city; private ambulance services are expensive and insufficient, and patients are left high and dry when they need help the most. These inadequacies ultimately have a human cost.

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Across the country, people have lost their lives because they could not get a bed or ambulance in time. The state has shortage of ambulances for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem. Patients have to wait for six to eight hours on an average for a government ambulance to show up.