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November 5, 2019

‘Issuing UAN for emergency services in Sindh not possible in near future’


November 5, 2019

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho on Monday conceded that the issuance of a universal access number (UAN) for emergency services in Sindh was not possible at the moment as it would require the establishment of a command and control centre in the province.

She added that there were in the province less than 100 emergency vehicles which could be defined as life-saving ambulances. “The issuance of a universal emergency or access number in Sindh or even in Karachi is not possible at the moment as it would require the establishment of a command and control centre, while there are several other issues that need to be sorted out first. We also need to find out whether only the ambulance service should be approached through the universal access number or other rescue services, including the fire brigade, should also be the part of the proposed emergency call centre,” Pechuho said while speaking at a news conference after a dissemination meeting on issues related to the ambulance service in the province.

The meeting titled “Saving Lives: Legislative Changes for Giving Way to Ambulances”, a project of the Healthcare in Danger Initiative of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), was organised in collaboration with the Sindh Health Department in addition to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) at the EPI Hall in Karachi.

The dissemination meeting was attended by Executive Director JPMC Dr Seemin Jamali, President SZABIST Shahnaz Wazir Ali, DIG Motorway Police Masroor Ahmed, ICRC Head of Project Mirwais Khan, Sindh Secretary Health Zahid Ali Abbasi, Additional Secretary Health Hafeezullah Abbasi, Dr Lubna Baig from Jinnah Sindh Medical University and Sana Jaffri. Officials from the Sindh Traffic Police and other departments were also part of the meeting.

Health Minister Pechuho further claimed that unfortunately, vehicles used by the Edhi and Chipa welfare services in the garb of ambulances were “not ambulances in the true sense” as they lacked basic equipment and trained staff to provide first aid and save lives of critically ill and injured people. She added that these ambulances could not be phased out so early as there were less than 100 ambulances in the provinces, which could be declared life-saving ambulances.

To a query, she said the Sindh Healthcare Commission being the regulatory body should ensure that vehicles being run as ambulances in the province had all the required equipment for resuscitation, oxygen and other supplies, while their staff and drivers were also trained. She added that traffic police should ensure that drivers of the ambulances were trained and possessed valid driving licences.

The health minister maintained that they had gathered to discuss amendments in the provincial motor vehicles act so that sick and wounded patients could be easily transported to the health facilities, while other emergency vehicles, including fire tenders, could also get the right of way in case of emergencies so that they could reach their destinations to save precious lives.

On the occasion, she called for a behaviour change in people to give right of way to ambulances and other emergency service vehicles, and urged the print and electronic media to play their role in this regard.

Executive Director JPMC Dr Seemin Jamali thanked the Sindh government, especially former health secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, for his role in amendments in the motor vehicle law. She added that now a lot had to be done to improve ambulance services in Karachi and the rest of the province so that precious lives could be saved while on the way to health facilities.

“There is an urgent need for the issuance of a universal emergency number in Karachi and Sindh so that people could approach a command centre in case of health and other emergencies. There is a need for improving the services of private ambulance services which are running small Suzuki vans as ambulances,” she said and called for behaviour change so that they could respect ambulance drivers and other healthcare providers.

Dr Jamali maintained that doctors and paramedics, including she as incharge of the JPMC Emergency Department, had faced the worst kind of violence when people were shot at their emergency, and an IED explosion killed and injured dozens of people.

She vowed to continue serving people in distress despite all these hurdles, saying society needed to understand the role of medical professionals in saving human lives.

DIG Motorway Police Dr Masroor Alam Kolachi called for the adoption of strict criteria for designating any vehicle as ambulance, and said drivers of the ambulances should not be given the “licence to kill” others while saving one or two lives.

“Ambulance drivers must be trained persons with valid driving licences, should fasten seatbelts while driving, should not be allowed to use mobile phones while driving and they should not violate speed limits even in case of emergencies,” Dr Kolachi said.

The Motorway Police official said that if allowed to violate traffic rules, ambulance and other emergency vehicles’ drivers could pose serious dangers to other people and motorists on roads.

ICRC official Mirwais Khan claimed that violence against healthcare providers was the highest in Karachi followed by Peshawar, and added that with the implementation of their project and awareness activities, the ratio of violence against healthcare providers had reduced by nine percent in the country.