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In India, three-wheelers called 'autos' are becoming ambulances as the health infrastructure crumbles

In India, three-wheelers called 'autos' are becoming ambulances as the health infrastructure crumbles
  • Auto rickshaws in India are being turned into ambulances to help transport COVID-19 patients to hospitals and testing centers.
  • Most of these initiatives have been kicked off to address the shortage of ambulances as India faces a rapid increase in new cases.
  • Not just autos, an engineer in Madhya Pradesh has turned his bike into a ambulance to transport COVID-19 patients.
Three-wheelers called ‘autos’ are being turned into ambulances all over India as the country struggles with an ambulance shortage. The increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country has put a strain on the existing health infrastructure.

To make things worse, private ambulance operators are charging patients exorbitant amounts of money to get them to hospitals amid the supply crunch.

Many state governments, like Rajasthan and Gujarat, have stepped in to try and regulate prices. But the capping of the rates these ambulances can charge is not universally well received.

In Gurgaon, when the Haryana government stepped in to regulate the rates, the ambulance operators went on strike. In a tussle between the private sector and the government, it was the patients who were paying the price.

To help out during this time of crisis, auto rickshaws are being pulled into the battlefield. From Delhi to Karnataka to Ahmedabad, governments, non-governmental organisations and good samaritans are stepping up to help COVID-19 patients get to hospitals and testing centres in ‘auto ambulances’.

Here’s a quick look at the auto ambulances saving lives across the country:

Delhi government launches free auto ambulance service for COVID-19 patients

Delhi government launches free auto ambulance service for COVID-19 patients
SanjaySingh/AamAadmiParty

The Delhi government along with the TYCIA Foundation launched 10 three-wheelers to ferry COVID-19 patients, for free, to nearby hospitals on May 6. And another 20 are on the way.

But the terms and conditions, in order to avail this service, are that a COVID-19 patient must be having an oxygen level between 85 to 90 in order to be eligible for a ride.

All of the auto drivers have been provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and the auto rickshaws come equipped with oxygen cylinders and sanitisers.

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Man in Bhopal sold his wife’s jewellery to set up an auto ambulance — got detained by the police enroute to pick up COVID-19 patient who died

Man in Bhopal sold his wife’s jewellery to set up an auto ambulance — got detained by the police enroute to pick up COVID-19 patient who died
BCCL

Javed Khan, a resident of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, has been running a free service to help COVID-19 patients. His auto comes fully equipped with an oxygen cylinder, a PPE suit for those helping a COVID-19 patient, sanitisers and basic medicines.

In order to set this up, Khan had to sell his wife’s jewellery. While we all love stories of triumph against the worst of odds, not every story has a happy ending.

On May 1, when he was going to pick up 57-year old Madan Singh to transport him from one hospital to another, he was stopped by the police.

The cops did not allow him to proceed. Despite his protests that he was only transporting critical COVID-19 patients, the police detained him and held him in custody for two hours.

Meanwhile, Singh died at the hospital waiting for someone to come and pick him up.

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In Mumbai, a school teacher is giving free auto ambulance rides to COVID-19 patients

In Mumbai, a school teacher is giving free auto ambulance rides to COVID-19 patients
ANI/Twitter

Maharashtra is one of the worst-hit states in the country. In late March, when the number of new cases started to surge, one of the hotspots that emerged was the country’s financial capital — Mumbai.

When Dattatraya Sawant, a school teacher and part-time auto rickshaw driver, saw the enormous rise in cases, he turned his three-wheeler into an auto ambulance for COVID-19 patients in northeast Mumbai. And he’s giving the rides for free.

“I drop off corona patients to Covid Care Centre and the hospital for free of charge, and also bring discharged patients from the hospital and Covid Centre to their respective homes,” he told news agency ANI.

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Auto ambulances in Ahmedabad are not able to keep up with the demand for rides from COVID-19 patients

Auto ambulances in Ahmedabad are not able to keep up with the demand for rides from COVID-19 patients
Pahan Foundation Facebook page

The non-governmental organisation (NGO), Panah Foundation, was focused on helping migrants get their documentation in order to avail government benefits. But with the surging cases of COVID-19 in Gujarat’s capital city, the management roped in 10 auto rickshaws to act as ambulances to help patients get to a hospital.

But the number of calls is so high that it has not been possible for them to reach out to everyone and the amount of time people have to wait is also increasing as COVID-19 cases surge.

And the service is not available to critical patients. “We decided that we would start an auto rickshaw ambulance only for patients who need hospitalisation or need to go to the laboratory for testing or a high-resolution CT scan,” said Bhavika Bhogekar of the Panah Foundation.

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Man in Karnataka giving auto ambulance rides to COVID-19 patients ranks in the India Book of Records for having saved more than 300 lives in his lifetime

Man in Karnataka giving auto ambulance rides to COVID-19 patients ranks in the India Book of Records for having saved more than 300 lives in his lifetime
The Better India

In the city of Belgaum, a 41-year old man named Manjunath Pujari has made a name for himself as being a nocturnal auto ambulance. And he’s been at it since long before the coronavirus pandemic.

He has been ferrying pregnant women to people who have suffered a heart attack for nearly a decade. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surged, he began to transport those patients as well.

“So far I would have ferried more than 300 patients to hospitals on various occasions,” he told The Better India. His efforts, appreciated by friends and colleagues, have earned him a place in the India Book of Records.

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It’s not just autos — an engineer in Madhya Pradesh created a ‘Jugaad Ambulance’ using his bike

It’s not just autos — an engineer in Madhya Pradesh created a ‘Jugaad Ambulance’ using his bike
Money Bhaskar

Anguished over the tales of suffering on social media, Aziz Khan was heartbroken when he found that ambulance drivers were demanding upwards of ₹10,000 to drive a COVID-19 patient under 5 kilometres to a hospital.

As an engineer, he decided to turn his bike into an ambulance for COVID-19 patients. And he figured out how to do it all online at an expense of ₹30,000.

The bike ambulance has all essential medicines as well as oxygen cylinders to help in the transportation of infected patients. Two additional people can ride along with the patient, the driver of the bike and one attendant or family member.

The only condition is that the family of a patient needs to refill the gas in the oxygen cylinder on the way back from dropping them off at the hospital.

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