In Andhra Pradesh’s agency belt, there are dirt tracks and remote hamlets. Medical help is a far cry for the tribals in the hilly areas. Without roads, there are no ambulances to reach the sick either. The nearest primary health centre (PHC) or hospital looks too far.
To help tribals facing emergencies, including pregnant women, it had to be a new kind of solution. They had the ‘doli’, a makeshift stretcher, to carry patients to nearby primary health centres, but there had to be a vehicle to reach the nearest PHC, around 20 km away. Many women were suffering without help. For instance, a tribal woman Jindammi, who had a miscarriage on June 29, was being taken to Parvatipuram area hospital in a ‘doli’. It was an ordeal for her family to bring her, trekking almost 12 km to reach Duggeru sub-centre before shifting her to a hospital in Parvatipuram in an ambulance. Fortunately, doctors there could save her in spite of heavy bleeding. The issue caught the attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), sending officials into a tizzy to explain the geographical condition of tribal areas of Vizianagaram district.
After much mulling, the Andhra Pradesh government proposed the feeder ambulance — a novel sidecar carriage to tackle the problem. The Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) Parvatipuram Project Officer G. Lakshmisha took the initiative to place 24 feeder ambulances at remote points, each covering four to five remote villages of mandals like Gumma Lakshmipuram, Jiyyammavalasa, Kurupam, Komarada, Makkuva, Saluru, Pachipeta and other areas on April 28 this year. The ambulance is a six-and-half feet box attached to a 150-cc motorcycle with a cushioned semi-sleeper facility suited for movement of patients even on uneven ghat roads.
Each vehicle costs around ₹1.2 lakh. Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu who handles the Medical and Health portfolio directed the officials to give utmost priority to their maintenance.
So how does it work? The ambulance can be reached by dialling the regular 108 helpline. Once the call reaches the ambulance driver, the patient is picked up within 15-20 minutes. Though without a GPS, the driver carries an official mobile phone and the number is known to everyone in the villages concerned.
Trained to revive
The bike drivers are trained in first aid and basic health measures. Regular orientation programmes help overcome operational hurdles.
“The motorcycle ambulance has come as a big blessing for patients. ITDA has provided the service for 684 patients in six months. Pregnant women and patients in serious condition are brought safely to primary health centres and major hospitals located in Parvatipuram and Vizianagaram,” said Mr. Lakshmisha.
Tribal residents too are happy. A pregnant woman, V.T. Lakshmi was shifted from TR Pitta village to Gajapathinagaram Community Health Centre. “I decided to travel from my village to CHC to get medical advice although it was difficult. Fortunately, the motorcycle ambulance was available,” she said. Five-year-old G. Chinnari suffering from high fever was shifted quickly to GN Peta Primary Health Centre from Bheemannadora valasa tribal habitation.
Ambulance driver Murali Naidu of Raiguddi recounts many difficulties in operating in the difficult terrain. “With the support of locals, we could clear bottle-necks. Now, the vehicle is moving smoothly, ensuring a safe journey for patients,” he added. “We don’t have all the facilities but we have a first aid kit,” he said. The kit includes a mini oxygen cylinder, thermometer, glucometer, pulse oxymeter, and intravenous fluid infusion set.
Earlier, patients had to wait for local autorickshaws to reach Gajapathinagaram — a local town — from their nearest road point after getting down from their hamlets. Villages like Goyyipaka, Aviri, of Gumma Lakshmipuram mandal cannot be reached even on bikes. People have to walk at least three km. to reach the habitation. Medical care has been a mirage for the residents of Tikkaparuvu, Nerallavalasa and Dandigam villages. Now, all these tribals are a relieved lot with the introduction of feeder ambulance facility.
Medical officer Ratna Deepika of Dokusila says patients can be saved if brought in the golden hour. “That time is precious. Feeder ambulances are enabling us to provide treatment. The ambulance driver informs the hospital about the patient early,” she added.