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Right Of Passage: Ambulances Can Save Many Lives If Not forced To Remain Stuck On Roads

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July 9, 2018 was a tragic day for Hamid Khan and family, as his father experiencing cardiac arrest was being rushed from the Saddar area of Peshawar to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). But the ambulance carrying his ailing father got stuck in traffic jam near Khyber Bazar. The traffic wardens were busy in clearing the road; however, the ambulance siren was of no help amid the buzzing horns. It took around 15 minutes for the ambulance to get out of the traffic jam and this delay cost the life of Khan’s father.

The ambulance driver, Abdur Rashid, recalled his response to a traffic warden who had asked him “what’s wrong”. “Do you think we are going to someone wedding, the siren is on, which means someone’s life is in danger, please clear the roads.”

The campaign for general elections was in full swing at that time. And on that unfortunate day, ANP candidate Haroon Bilour arrived for a corner meeting in the Yakkatoot area of Peshawar. But a suicide bomber targeted him, killing more than 60 people. The injured and the bodies were shifted to LRH, but again the process was time consuming because of traffic congestion and narrows alleys. This region has witnessed bombings and killing of dozens of people in a single day. In such attacks, the death toll always jumped because of traffic jams and not respecting the ambulance’s right of passage.

The roads leading to LRH from the blast site are not that narrow but the shopkeepers and vendors have created this congestion. Moreover, there are around 80,000 rickshaws in the city and half of these are unregistered, besides hundreds of cabs running without permits. The majority of drivers don’t the respect the right of passage for ambulance and also other vehicles.

LRH Director (Emergencies) Dr Khalid Masud says in cases of medical emergencies, every minute counts and a difference of a few minutes can either save someone or lead him/her to eternal life. In such incidents what the relatives often hear from the doctors is “if the patient was shifted five or ten minutes earlier his life could have been saved”, he added.

Dr Khalid believes dozens of seriously injured people die in Peshawar every year because of 10 to 15 minutes delay. And according to ambulance driver Rashid, Khan’s father also died because of a few minutes delay.

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He says most of the people do respect ambulance and give them passage on hearing siren. However, there are some whose behaviour risk the life of the patient.

Sharing another incident, Rashid said a person took the ambulance moving ahead of him as an insult and parked his car in front of it, with a spinal cord patient waiting desperately for treatment. But despite the abusive behaviour, he preferred shifting the patient to the hospital more important.

Rashid says they often encounter troublesome people during emergencies on roads, including those busy with their mobile phones and others having hearing problems due to old age.

The data of Rescue 1122 shows that a total of 27,249 emergencies were responded in 2018, in which medical emergencies stood at 71 per cent, followed by 23 per cent of the road traffic accident. The rest includes fire, crimes, drowning and building collapse and bomb blast victims.

District Emergency Officer Malik Sher Dil Khan says the ratio of medical emergencies in Peshawar is much higher from the very beginning. On not cooperating with ambulances, he said in some case people become very emotional, by keeping their ego above all. “Perhaps they think ambulances are moving around in the city just for fun,” said Malik. “They accuse ambulances of keeping their siren on, without having any patient in it.”

According to Dr Masud, we, unfortunately, as a community, do not respect the rule of law, leave homes late for work and then struggle to reach on time, which often result in the violation of traffic rules and congestion.

He says most of the time in case of an emergency – such as a bomb blast, accident or natural disaster – victims are rushed to a single hospital on main General Trunk Road, but dozens of attendants also accompany patient which leads to further complexities.

“How can a doctor work in such a situation when there is no room to breathe,” Dr Masud said. “If it was not this congestion inside the trauma room and traffic illiteracy, we could have saved some of the precious lives, if not all,” he lamented.

Dr Masud also says that with a better traffic management plan, we can save a lot of human lives, as referred to the Motorway Police, as its introduction reduced traffic accidents by 69 per cent.

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Zulfiqar Akhtar – a resident of Peshawar – considers ambulance’s right of passage as a matter of life and death. “There is nothing more important than giving passage to an ambulance,” said Akhtar, adding that however, it was out of a driver power, when the roads were narrow and packed during rush hours. “In such a case, even if one wants to give passage to an ambulance, the traffic congestion left them helpless.”

He said in foreign countries, ambulances had their special tracks and a similar arrangement may provide a permanent solution to the problem.

Malik says the people are engaged in awareness sessions to educate them. “After a number of awareness sessions in educational institutions and various organisations, now we are also planning to sensitise the community at grassroots levels with the help of local bodies.”

He mentioned that the sound of siren means either there is a patient in the vehicle, but lamented that often fake calls engage resources in the wrong direction, which can cause potential harm to a genuine case.

But according to Wahid Khan, who is a taxi driver from the Charsadda Road area, people generally give passage to even a normal car carrying a patient; however, he, in some cases, witnessed people crossing or over taking ambulances if they have more important work to do.

According to SSP Traffic Kashif Zulfiqar, there is lack of awareness among the people regarding the fast and slow lanes on road. The drivers in accordance with rules should provide passage to an ambulance on the fast track, however, they people do not cooperate in this regard.

“There is a lack of awareness for which the traffic police is working on,” he said and added that six camps were established recently in various areas of the city to create awareness regarding lane discipline.

However, he says that instilling this discipline among the commuters will take time as things won’t improve overnight.

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