Emergency medical care is a need, not a privilege, for every citizen. In India, emergency medical services have penetrated very few metropolitan areas and Tier-2 cities, covering merely the tip of the iceberg. However, underneath the surface there are many villages, townships and tribal settlements, constituting over 70 per cent of the country’s population, that struggle for basic amenities such as food, clean water and healthcare. In such a scenario, last mile penetration of emergency medical care is difficult to achieve. Road ambulances are seldom sufficient in ensuring availability of emergency medical services to every person.
Taking stock of the issues at hand, the National Rural Health Mission in 2012 introduced boat ambulances in Odisha and Uttarakhand for the benefit of rural residents who previously had little access to swift and efficient emergency medical services. Based on the need and scope of such service, other citizens can also benefit from boat ambulances. But first, it is important to understand why boat ambulances are a necessity in some areas and a mere supporting service in others. Here are a few pointers to clarify its need.
- Difficult terrain: There are thousands of tribal settlements in the country, accounting for over 8 per cent of the population as per the 2011 census. Majority of these people live in isolated areas, which are hard to reach by road, due to rock and difficult terrains. With most settlements being located close to water bodies, boat ambulances can help residents reach medical services in time.
- Improve response time and reduce transportation time: Boat ambulances can be faster in a few areas which are surrounded by water bodies, making it more efficient to travel through the water than by road. In such a scenario, ambulances can be deployed to reach the patient during the golden hour, so that their lives are rescued at the earliest and transported to the medical facility in time. With advanced emergency medical equipment as well as trained paramedics on board, the first responder medical treatment can begin as the patient is en route the hospital.
- Last mile connectivity: While emergency medical care is available to most city-dwellers, there is a long way to go before rural population can get access to emergency medical services. In remote villages across the country, the nearest hospital is sometimes hours away by private transport vehicles and at other times villagers need to carry the patient on their backs and walk to get to the nearest hospital. However, in cases where there is a river or sea close by, one does not have to go through long winding roads and rather transport the person through boat ambulances to reach the hospital
- Off the shore accidents: With extended monsoons raging across the country this year, fishing expeditions and tourist boating adventures can result in fatalities. In such a scenario, boat ambulances can serve as precautionary measures and rise to the occasion as water superheroes. In areas such as Chennai, Mumbai, Assam, among others, where flooding has led to many casualties, boat ambulances can be used to provide relief and rescue the ones in grave danger.
Thus, these water superheroes have many benefits including low cost investments, high efficiency, increased emergency service penetration and reduced transportation time, leading to the Indian Government’s strategic partnership with private players such as Ziqitza Health Care Limited, in making them available for the citizens. This initiative has been taken as a pilot in Odissa with ZHL and the Odissa state government. While there are many precautions in place for emergencies occurring on the roads and in the comfort of our homes, there are scanty bankable emergency medical services for workers, navy merchants, fishing communities and island-dwellers that are out on the sea for months together. However, the introduction of boat ambulances has served to become a beacon of hope for such communities, making the sea as safe as the land for the seamens’ hopes and dreams to float healthily.