The GMK EMRI 108 ambulance service has completed 14 years of operation in Gujarat. The fleet, which had 650 ambulances during the Covid first wave, swelled to 800 between March and May this year. An official estimate stated that the fleet ferried 2.19 lakh, Covid-positive patients, over one and a half years during the pandemic in Gujarat.
Vikas Bihani (38), manager, analytics, said that while the second wave was at its peak, the 108-call centre recorded a high of 64,000 calls in a single day. This was the time, Bihani said when reports of ambulances declining services to non-Covid patients were making rounds.
But the ride hasn’t been smooth all along. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Councillor Iqbal Shaikh said he tried to connect with the 108 earlier in April for his Covid-positive relative, but he never heard back from them.
“We had to finally take them to the hospital in a private vehicle, not equipped with essentials and medical supplies required for elderly Covid-positive patients,” Shaikh said. Bihani said that given the intensity of frenzied calls from the relatives of the patients and the long wait time outside the Covid-designated hospital, they failed to respond to everyone on time.
“Despite that our employees, particularly the ambulance drivers and paramedics, did their best and ensured more and more people reached the hospital on time,” Bihani explained.
Bihani said the state government had intimated them to start preparations for the third wave. “We are constantly studying the situation and if the need arises, we will add additional ambulances in our fleet.” The ambulance service, in 14 years of its operation, has provided services to around 1.25 crore patients across all districts and the talukas of Gujarat. Out of 800 ambulances in service, two are boat ambulances. “We have never had any difficulty in procuring funding from the government. And we hope the trend continues,” Bihani said.
(With inputs from Ashvita Singh and Jyoti Patel)