KARACHI: “I am one of the few people of Baba Island who really knows the worth of a boat ambulance,” said the grey-bearded fisherman.
Ali and his neighbours have put up with transportation problems for as long as they can remember. “My wife gave birth in the boat as we could not manage to take her to some hospital in the city in time,” he told The Express Tribune. Baba is a small island located seven kilometres away from Keamari and has a population of around 30,000, according to official records. The island has been mostly ignored by the government since Pakistan’s inception. They have a poor sanitation system and no recreational facilities.
The government established a hospital for the people of the island four years ago, however, with two doctors, the hospital can only provide first aid. “Though my son, Jibran, is well and seven months old now, I can still remember the pain and tension my family went through that night,” Ali said. One of his friends, Naseem, quickly added, “One of those women who delivered in the boat even died.” But now things have improved, thanks to a non-government organisation that started an emergency ambulance service.
They do not have to worry about the availability of boats any more, even in an emergency or late at night. “The normal passenger boats run till 10 pm and after that, very few of them take patients to Keamari during emergencies. Now the boat ambulance service is available all the time,” said Naseem, who is also a Katchi fisherman. A group of friends visited the island seven months ago and when they found out about the serious health and transport problems of the local population, they voluntary decided to open a clinic for them, under the name of NGO ‘Morning Hope’.
“After some time, we realised that there was the need for an ambulance boat as we could not provide that many services at our clinic,” said Nasir Ali, an administrator at the small hospital. “We could provide basic facilities but in emergency cases we needed to take people to city hospitals.” Now the residents take the patients for treatment to the clinic but if the doctor feels their condition is serious, he refers them to one of the main hospitals and then the ambulance boat is used.
The boat ambulance has all the basic facilities that a vehicle ambulance usually has: stretchers, wheel chairs and a respirator, along with first aid medicines. According to Nasir, the only help extended by the Sindh government was the inauguration of the ambulance service by Sindh chief minister’s adviser Sharmila Farooqui. “They are not ready to spend even a single penny on the health of the people,” Ali commented. The clinic has two doctors who also supervise the ambulance boat service.
Dr Shamim, one of the supervising doctors, said, “We heard the news of a pregnant woman dying because there was no boat available at night, so we came up with the idea of the boat ambulance,” she said, adding that childbirth services cannot be provided to women at the Island clinic as no doctor is available at night. According to its records, the boat has handled 57 emergency cases since its inauguration. “Most of the cases were heart attacks and childbirth cases,” Dr Shamim explained. About the boat ambulance, Ghulam who works in the area, said, “For you it’s a simple boat. For us it’s a whole lot more.”
Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.