Ambulance Services in India Addressing Unmet Needs

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MUMBAI — The current state of ambulance services in India is dismal at best. In Dehli, there exist only 152 ambulances to serve the population of 22 million people, meaning that the ambulance services in Dehli alone are attempting to operate at a capacity 69 percent greater than the ideal ambulance capacity outlined by the WHO. In order to meet said standards, Dehli would have to add 68 more ambulances to their fleet. Such an overwhelmed system ultimately means that of the 70,768 emergency calls received from 2009-2010, a full 28 percent were refused due to ambulance shortages. Thankfully, an initiative began in 2014 to add 110 new ambulances to the Dehli fleet, which would allow the quantitative nature of the fleet to surpass WHO standards.

Even so, in the nation as a whole, less than half of patients considered to be “seriously injured” are transported to medical facilities via ambulance services. Further, such ambulance services were not standardized until 2016, and the effects of this standardization will not be implemented until April 2018, meaning that until then, an “ambulance” is often simply a taxi equipped with a flashing light on top and not much else, notably absent of any sort of medical supplies or medical staff. In these cases, an “ambulance” is essentially a glorified taxi.

Beyond the simple shortage of ambulances, various other issues exist within the ambulance system in India that contribute to its inefficient and ineffective nature. The lack of infrastructure, specifically in rural areas, impedes an ambulance’s ability to reach patients, as roads are often either impassable or nonexistent. Additionally, the nation has a population of over 1.2 billion individuals, which contributes to the consistently congested nature of roads that further impede an ambulance’s ability to travel swiftly.

All of these issues combine to ensure that individuals that could truly benefit from ambulance services must look elsewhere, often by either carrying injured family members for miles or using rickshaws for transport. This is why Ziqitza Health Care Limited (ZHL) created its own line of private ambulances. ZHL services Mumbai in particular, but has also expanded to operations in five other states, thanks to government contracts that have totaled over $80 million.

ZHL operates a 24/7 call center and utilizes ambulance tracking systems to ensure that they can divert the closest available ambulance to the patient as quickly as possible. Their ambulance staff is trained in basic and advanced life support skills that have been certified by the American Heart Association and New York Presbyterian Hospital, ensuring that there is not only medical care available in the ambulance, but that it is also of the highest quality.

Perhaps most important, in order to promote accessibility for all, ZHL utilizes a sliding pay scale in Mumbai that is reliant on a customer’s ability to pay. In other words, ZHL does not charge a flat rate, and even charges nothing at all should the patient be the victim of an accident or disaster, or be traveling alone.

The incredible work done by ZHL has allowed them to serve over four million individuals since 2005, all with a fleet of less than a thousand ambulances. Yet, it is still important to note that the emergence of private ambulance services like ZHL is not enough. Until federal ambulance services in India are improved and expanded across the nation, the vast majority of citizens will be forced to seek other options for medical transportation.

Kailee Nardi

Photo: Flickr

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Kailee Nardi

Kailee currently lives in Columbus, Ohio but her hometown is Lisle, Illinois. Her academic interests include international relations and diplomacy, and Romance languages. Kailee had reached the summit of two mountains before the age of 20!

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