PICS: BIKRAM RAI
The Americans have 911, the British have 111, Kathmandu residents can now dial 102 in an emergency, and a state-of-the-art ambulance with life-saving medical care will appear on the street outside.
Private hospitals have mushroomed in Kathmandu over the past decade, but many do not have professional and well-equipped ambulance services. Even ambulances that are on the roads do not meet minimum requirements like cardiac equipment, oxygen or emergency medicines.
A recent study by Patan Hospital revealed that only 10 per cent of patients use ambulances in emergencies. Getting the sick to hospital in private cars or taxis not only increases trauma in patients, but often leads to dead-on-arrival cases.
It was to address this crying need that a group of Kathmandu-based professionals established Nepal Ambulance Service (NAS) in April 2011. "We strongly felt Nepalis themselves can initiate professional ambulance services without seeking foreign donor funding," explains Ranjit Acharya, a founding member of NAS.
Acharya, whose full-time job is at Prisma Advertising, says NAS is an independent non-profit initiative which offers ambulances equipped with specialised life-saving equipment and trained emergency medical technicians in Kathmandu and Patan. NAS's dispatch center provides emergency pre-arrival instructions and there are 14 on-call emergency physicians for medical consultations.
Emergency personnel on NAS ambulances are trained to treat everything from spinal chord injuries, excessive bleeding, attending to breathing problems, starting IV fluids for patients in shock. NAS's general secretary, Mahesh Nakarmi, says his ambulance attendants have received specialised training in emergency medicine.
Right from its inception, NAS has received support from various corporate houses. Golchha Organisation was among the first to donate an ambulance to NAS. "We feel that NAS is working for a great cause and believe that it will successfully┬ address the problems of emergency medical care in Nepal," says Shekhar Golchha, director of Golchha Organisation and also a member of NAS's National Advisory Board.
NAS planned to start with five ambulances around the Ring Road and then gradually increase the number to 20 to cover the entire valley. However, only two ambulances are currently in operation since three others are still stuck at customs. As per the law each medical institution can operate only one ambulance, and NAS has been lobbying to release the remaining three vehicles. For now, NAS is partnering with 11 other ambulance networks to handle growing demand.
"Members bring their unique perspective and expertise," explains Acharya. The monthly operational cost of the organisation is managed through financial contributions made by patrons, corporate members and board members like Golchha and Acharya.
Despite budget constraints and limited resources, members of NAS are positive about the services they have delivered so far and hope to expand their network throughout Nepal.
[For more information call 4286821 or visit nepalambulanceservice.org]