July 9, 2018, was a tragic day for Hamid Khan and family, as his father with cardiac arrest and was in a rush from Saddar area of Peshawar to lady reading hospital. All was well until the ambulance carrying his ailing father stuck in traffic congestion near Khyber Bazar. The traffic wardens were busy to clear up the road; however, amid the buzzing horns the blockage was unmanageable vehicles, even the ambulance siren was of no help. It took almost fifteen minutes for the ambulance to come out of the traffic jam, though seems trivial in ordinary life, the delay cost the life of Khan’s father.
Abdur Rashid was on the driving seat of the ambulance that day, he recalled, his response to a traffic warden, who enquired from him “what’s wrong”, was instant “do you think we are going for someone wedding, the siren is on, which means someone life is in danger, please clear up the roads”.
These were general election campaign days and on this unfortunate day, Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour arrived for a corner meeting in the jurisdiction of Yakkatoot police station, Peshawar North West city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. A suicide bomber was waiting for Haroon and detonated his jacket, after a thundering blast more than 60 persons were in the blood pool. Injured and dead bodies were rushed to Lady Ready Hospital but in the very slow face because of congested traffic as well as narrows alleys. The region has witnessed bloody blasts and killing of dozens of people in single days. In such attacks, the score of death always jumped because of traffic jam and not respecting ambulance right of passage.
Roads lead to the hospital from blast spot is not smaller but the shopkeepers and vendors have made it tiny. Approximately there are 80,000 rickshaws in Peshawar city and half of the rickshaws are unregistered, including hundreds of cabs without road permits. Majority of the drivers don’t know respect and right of passage for an ambulance and also other vehicles.
Director Emergencies Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar Dr Khalid Masud says that “in cases of medical emergencies every minute counts, a difference of few minutes can either save someone or lead him/her to eternal life” adding that in such incidents what relatives often hear from the doctors is “if the patient were shifted five or ten minutes earlier his life could be saved.” He believes in Peshawar every year dozens of critically injured die because of 10 to 15 minutes delay. According to ambulance driver Rashid, because of a few minutes delay in Hamid Khan’s father also died before reaching the hospital.
To Rashid, most of people do respect ambulance and allow us to pass on when they hear a siren. However, he said, there are also some who’s behaviour risk life of the patient lying down in the ambulance. Hinting towards another incident, Rashid said, one person took ambulance moving ahead of him is an insult, and parked his car in front of it, with a spinal cord patient waiting desperately for treatment, despite his abuses, Rashid considered it more important to shift the patient to the hospital.
Rashid said, although such cases are very rare, however, they often encounter troublesome people during emergencies on roads, explaining, some of them seems busy with their mobile phone, other having hearing problems due to old age. He said this delays their response time to the hospitals.
The data of Rescue 1122 shows that a total of 27,249 emergencies were responded in 2018, in which alone medical emergencies count 71 percent, followed by 23 percent of the road traffic accident. The rest includes fire, crimes, drowning and building collapse and bomb blast victims. District Emergency Officer Rescue 1122 Peshawar, Malik Sher Dil Khan says, most of the cases they handle in Peshawar are of medical emergencies. He said that the ratio of medical emergencies in Peshawar is much higher from the very beginning. On non-compliance 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 Khan “they accuse ambulance of keeping their siren on, without having any patient in it”
To Dr Masud unfortunately, as a community we do not respect the rule of law, coming out lately for work and then struggling to reach on time often results in the violation of traffic rules and ultimate traffic congestion. He said that 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, 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 in,” 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 said with a better traffic management plan, we can save a lot of human lives, referring to the model policing of Motorway police, he said, with the introduction of Motorway police 69 % of the traffic incident decreased in the routs which they manage.
Zulfiqar Akhtar a resident of Peshawar considers ambulance right of passage as a matter of life and death. Akhtar said, in his experience as a driver most of the people respect ambulances and give passage right away. “There is nothing more important than giving passage to an ambulance,” said Akhtar “however, it is out of a driver power, when the roads are narrow and packed on rush hours”. Akhtar added that in such a case even if one wants to give passage to an ambulance, the bumper to bumper rush left them helpless. He said that in foreign countries ambulances have their special tracks to travel on, such sort of arrangement may provide a permanent solution to the problem.
Sher Dil Khan said, to educate this marginal number to respect ambulances they are engaged in awareness sessions. He said that after a number of awareness sessions in educational institutions and various organisations, now they are also planning to sensitize the community on grassroots levels with the help of local bodies.
Khan said the sound of siren means either there is a patient in the vehicle or it’s on way for an emergency. He lamented that often fake calls engage resources in the wrong direction, which can cause potential harm to a genuine case.
Wahid Khan a taxi driver from Charsadda Road, said people even provide a way to the normal car with having a patient in it, to say of ambulance it is more visible than it. However, he said that in some cases, he witnessed people crossing ambulances if they have more important work to do.
According to SSP Traffic Kashif Zulfiqar, there is lack of awareness in people regarding the fast and slow lane on road, he said, in accordance with rules drivers should provide passage to an ambulance on the fast track, however, still, people do not cooperate with ambulances in an emergency situation. There is a lack of awareness in people for which traffic police is working, he added, recently, the established 6 camps in various areas of the city, where the providing awareness regarding lance discipline. We installed even cons to educate them on how to follow their specific lane. He said, that this discipline in the commuters will take time and will not improve overnight.