Some of the common features one may find in an ambulance should include a variety of medical equipment, for instance, cardiac monitor, oxygen tank and so forth. Because of the life-saving equipment, an ambulance can be considered as the "hospital on wheels".
One may wonder what those vehicles, which look like an ambulance but are devoid of the very characteristics, be considered.
However, over a hundred microbuses, which are not fit for any use at all, are being run as ambulances to carry patients to and from hospitals in Barisal city. In the absence of adequate number of ambulances in real sense, this microbus-turned-ambulance service is running the show, leaving the emergency patients at the mercy of the ambulance drivers, said some patients and officials of different city hospitals.
Dr Abul Fazol, director of Barisal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital (SBMCH), said, "In the southern region, around 2,000 patients visit SBMCH every single day, and almost 10 percent of them come here with serious injuries and complications like heart attack and stroke. Using the microbuses during critical hours is very risky for the emergency patients."
"An emergency patient can get oxygen tank and other necessary support in an ambulance. But the microbuses do not have any such facilities, which can cause the death of serious patients," he added.
After talking to some of the officials, it was found that Barisal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital (SBMCH) has three ambulances, but one of them is dysfunctional.
Apart from that, ambulance service of Barisal General Hospital was suspended a long time ago.
Some of the patients and their attendants at SBMCH said in the absence of adequate number of ambulances, a vested quarter is running the unfit microbuses as ambulances.
When asked, Dr Abul Fazol said, "We need at least 10 ambulances, and we applied to the health ministry to provide us with the required number of ambulances one year ago."
Ranajit Dutta, secretary of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, Barisal unit, said using unfit microbuses as ambulances is very risky for serious patients.
Debasish Biswas, traffic inspector of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) in Barisal, said there are no provisions that allow microbuses to operate as ambulances. Sometimes, they conduct drives against illegal plying of such vehicles, he added.
However, Nazrul, one of the microbus-cum-ambulance drivers, sees it in a different way. He said, "We serve rural people due to a lack of adequate number of ambulances.
Contacted, Uttam Kumar Paul, deputy commissioner (traffic) of Barisal Metropolitan Police, said they are not aware of the issue.