Comment

Assisting the injured

HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, 04/08/2016: The road before the Buddha Bhavan adjacent to the Hussainsagar Tank being halved due to Metrowater pipeline-laying works has been taking its toll. Picture shows an SUV that crashed into the divider at high speed early on August 04, 2016. Two people were grievously injured and shifted to hospital. 
Photo: Nagara Gopal

HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, 04/08/2016: The road before the Buddha Bhavan adjacent to the Hussainsagar Tank being halved due to Metrowater pipeline-laying works has been taking its toll. Picture shows an SUV that crashed into the divider at high speed early on August 04, 2016. Two people were grievously injured and shifted to hospital. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Early morning on August 11, a speeding freight autorickshaw hit Matbool, 32, in West Delhi’s Subhash Nagar area. The driver fled when he saw Matbool bleeding. Some people passed by the spot but not one of them extended a helping hand. The nearest hospital was reportedly just 500 m away. Had Matbool been taken there earlier, he could have survived.

This is one of the many cases of public apathy towards accident victims reported in the media. Many others go unreported. Bystanders often appear reluctant to help the injured or simply indifferent — sometimes they stand around the scene of the accident but only out of curiosity. Does this suggest a fundamental flaw in our social relationships and attitudes, or is there something else that prevents us from helping others and perhaps saving lives?

Why don’t people help? The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its report titled ‘Prehospital trauma care systems’ lists factors that may prevent bystanders from helping the injured. These include “a lack of knowledge about what to do, fear of legal consequences if one’s actions are ineffective or harmful, and fear of involvement in a subsequent investigation.”

In 2013, SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF), a New Delhi-based non-profit organisation working on road safety, carried out a study involving 1,027 road-users in seven Indian cities. It found that 74 per cent of bystanders were unlikely to assist severely injured victims. Of these, 88 per cent stated that they feared being caught in long-drawn legal procedures, including repeated police questioning and court appearances. Overall, 88 per cent of the respondents expressed the need for a supportive legal environment to empower Good Samaritans.

Professor M.C. Misra, head of the Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Centre at AIIMS, New Delhi, says these fears are mostly unfounded: “The cases of harassment that we hear about are aberrations. People do help. But the number of road accidents is so high that a lot more need to step in.”

In India, road accidents are one of the major causes of unnatural deaths. In 2014, on an average 16 people were killed every hour, and 387 every day, in road accidents. This was a rise of 2.9 per cent from the previous year. According to the 2014 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau, 4,50,898 cases of road accidents took place that year, killing 1,41,526 people and injuring 4,77,731. These are alarming numbers.

Research published in the Indian Journal of Surgery suggests that 80 per cent of victims fail to receive emergency medical care in the ‘golden hour’ after the accident. The WHO has projected that by 2020, road accidents will be one of the biggest killers in India.

Empowering bystanders To address this, the Supreme Court issued directions empowering bystanders to help accident victims, in a historic judgment on March 30. In SaveLife Foundation v. Union of India, the court said, “It is absolutely necessary that Good Samaritans feel empowered to act without fear of adverse consequence.” It also observed that “people have the notion that touching the body could lend them liable for police interrogation. Passerby plays safe and chose to wait for the police to arrive whereas injured gradually bleeds to death.”

Bystanders can really make a difference according to the WHO report. Promptly providing first aid enhances the odds of survival for accident victims. “Generally in pre-hospital settings, people do not die even of severe injury. They die of airway obstruction. As soon as somebody becomes unconscious, the airway is threatened immediately. A bystander can easily open the airway through simple methods like jaw thrusting or chin lifting,” Dr. Misra says.

At times, bystanders also fear that their intervention may worsen the injury. This is not true, he adds.

Implementing guidelines The court in its judgment had directed the Centre and the States to widely publish guidelines through electronic and print media to spread awareness and encourage people to act. The success of the judgment rests on the initiatives taken by the governments. Karnataka is set to become the first State to have a Good Samaritan law and other States must follow its lead.

Piyush Tewari, founder and CEO of SLF, says, “The challenge at present is that people are unaware about their legal rights as Good Samaritans. This awareness cannot come overnight. It requires a consistent outreach programme. A mention here and there won’t help much.”

The guidelines, if implemented, will not only protect helpful bystanders from unnecessary legal hassles, but will also reward them for their acts. They recommend stringent actions against police officers and doctors who harass people acting in good faith or who refuse treatment to accident victims.

It has been seven months since the apex court’s judgment, but substantial change is not visible on the ground. Advertisements, which are few and far between, urgently need to transcend into a campaign mode, similar to the ones on polio eradication and iodised salt. With 387 deaths a day due to road accidents in India, can we afford any further delay?

Mukesh Rawat is a freelance journalist. Email: mukeshrawat705@gmail.com


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 26, 2022 6:59:37 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Assisting-the-injured/article62114323.ece