News of two ambulances that drove at breakneck speed from Mengaluru and Perinthalmann to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram respectively, carrying infants that needed emergency surgery, has been shared by Keralites wih pride. The 17-day old baby of the couple Sania-Mithah from Kasargode was the first to be transferred to Kochi on Tuesday, while the ambulance carrying the three-day infant of Najad and Irfana from Perinthalmanna zoomed off Thiruvananathapuram.
It was through the typically crowded roads of Kerala that the vehicles reached the destinations in five and a half hours which should be attributed solely to the collective spirit of Keralites. A green corridor for the ambulance to pass through was ensured through an intelligently synchorised arrangement through Whatsapp groups and Facebook live with the vigilant involvement of voluntary organizatins, youth, vehicle drivers and police like a well-oiled machine. Kerala had occasion to witness such adventurous drives earlier too. What made it more newsworthy this time is the experiene of rescue effort of two infants in life and death situation within a week. Both journeys get etched in the annals of humanitarian history of Kerala – and remembered proudly by every Keralite - imparting great lessons of mutual care and sympathy. Kerala had witnessed that rare sense of unity in a big way in times of crisis during the floods last August. The ambulance journeys once again brought into the fore the fact that we still uphold that culture of care for brethren.
Even as we share the experience of adventurous tenderness and love, this should open our eyes also to certain other facts. Kerala is a state that can claim to have made big strides in the domain of public health. In such a state, if ambulances had to zoom past crowded roads from one end of the state to the other to save the lives of two infants, that does not augur well. The very road journey at that pace lasting several hours, may aggravate or even endanger the condition of the patient. Which brings us to the geographic imbalance of development of Kerala in health sector too, as in many other sectors within the state. That is, the northern region of Malabar is still suffering from discrimination in the matter of health care facilities. Numerous social movements and individuals had on several occasions arrayed various statistics and evidence of this discrimination. But those responsible have seldom cared to take such observations at face value.
More than that, the current ruling party of the state, has mostly tried to dismiss such criticisms with labels of extremism and divisiveness. Taking the health facilities right from primary health centres upward, one can easily see Malabar region lagging behind the central Kochi region of Kerala in every respect. And mostly it is thanks to vibrant interventions by private health institutions the health problems of Malabar region are prevented from getting worse. Taking the figures of public sector alone, one can clearly see the differences turning into blatant discrimination. This makes a strong case for efforts to end the situation wherein people in need of expert treatment are forced to travel to either the capital far south or other far-off stations. This fits in with a pattern of discrimination suffered by Malabar in all areas related to development mainly education, transport and industry. But the sad fact is that even the political leadership in Malabar has not been seized of the problem or ready to address it with the seriousness it deserves.
And there are also risks in shifting seriously ill patients via high-speeding ambulances to distant locations. Therefore, there is a growing demand to make air ambulances available. During the last UDF government, an air ambulance project was launched. An agreement was reached between Rajeev Gandhi Academy for Civil Aviation in Thiruvananthapuram and the state government, and the project was inaugurated too. But the fact is that it does not exist in effect now. There is no point in getting elated over reaching such patients to the desired destination by speeding ambulances. What is needed is to put in place effective and scientific mechanisms, and create a situation which offers required facility to people in all parts of the state without discrimination.