Fatal roads


No sight is perhaps more painful than seeing an ambulance with warning lights and sirens trying to make way through a traffic jam in our narrow potholed roads. Such sightings are more regular in Kohima and Dimapur. The misfortune is that traffic jams are not rare. They have become a common sight with increasing traffic on our primitive road infrastructure. As the gap between life and death is thinned during the journey, a jam further narrows the time between life and death. The patient is struggling and his attendants are helpless in the traffic turmoil. To worsen the matter further is the callous approach to driving. As a queue of vehicles forms on the road, suddenly one of the vehicles comes from behind whizzing past many, and in no time another line of vehicles is formed. Thus creating a mind-wracking situation in which movement is ceased in a maze of vehicles. Very often the person referred breathes his last inside the ambulance. When statistics are given it is stated that X number of people died in accidents in the year Y. An accident is projected as the cause of the death. No doubt accidents do turn fatal. More often though it is not the accident per se which is the cause of death but the time spent in taking the patient to hospital. If the time of accident and the time an ambulance reaches a hospital followed by immediate care in less congested emergency units is minimised, the number of causalities will be drastically brought down. As it is, most people end their life on roads in ambulances or private vehicles while going to hospitals. The issue is not merely that of the delayed administration of treatment but the bad condition of roads which limit the chance of survival. They promote deterioration in the condition of the victim. In such situations, the need is to move the patient to hospital with little additional damage to the organs. However, with roads as they are, with lots of unevenness, potholes, speed breakers, the shrieks of the patient and the attendants only increase to disappear in the surrounding cacophony. This is generally the situation from the district hospitals to the nursing homes. If far flung areas are brought into the picture, then you cannot do anything except throw your hands in utter helplessness. Imagine a patient who has met with an accident in a village in Kiphire District. From primary health centre to the sub-divisional to the district hospital and then finally to the nursing homes in Dimapur or Kohima, coupled with the totally non-existent roads it will take long enough time for him to lose hope of any chance of life. We are not here mentioning the actual nature and quality of the ambulance service also. They leave a lot to be desired. Overall, in this scenario, one feel that compared to modern ambulance services in advanced countries, a cruel joke is played on the sense of rescuing life from the jaws of death. So what is possible way out? What is a pragmatic solution in the circumstances in which we live? To begin with a basic civil etiquette should be impressed upon all drivers. That is, give a decent space and time to an ambulance to move to her destination. To this end, it is not a bad idea if public awareness is created with the help of, among other ways, through the Church. This would assist in alerting the people to a behaviour which should have been naturally imbibed. Not just an ambulance people need to give space to both fire-tenders and police services. Their importance cannot be overemphasised. And perhaps more importantly, until the screams for reform in different sectors connected to health are met with positive results, it is an opportune moment to begin a helicopter service. A helicopter in each district hospital which will be utilised for aerial transportation of emergency patients is the best safety net for saving precious lives. The airlifting will save time and bypass all the irritants caused due to surface transport. In fact the 14 patients evacuated by IAF choppers from Kiphire District on August 8 last (due to the district being cut off from the rest of the State by landslides) have more chance of survival than if they were transported via roads. Clearly it would be uncanny to carry on with the road ambulance knowing well how unfair the practice is to the sanctity of life.