COVID-19: Odisha ambulance service to pregnant women’s rescue

The service has helped at least 92 pregnant women from state’s Kandhamal district since March 24, 2020 

By Priya Ranjan Sahu
Published: Tuesday 14 April 2020

As the country battles out the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, concerns over pregnant women unable to get desired medical support have surfaced from several states.

But Odisha’s Kandhamal district has offered some respite to its women — through its bike ambulance service that ferries pregnant women living in inaccessible areas to a nearby hospital.

The bike ambulances have helped at least 92 pregnant women from interior villages of Daringbadi, Baliguda and Phiringia blocks get to the nearest hospitals since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020. They were started in 2018 to provide transport facilities in deeper pockets of the district. 

More than half the women were transported from Daringbadi. Kandhamal is a predominantly tribal district surrounded by hills and dense forests. It has not reported any positive COVID-19 case as on April 14, 2020.

Measures such as social distancing were adhered to while transporting women, according to district officials.

“I could not get any vehicle to the hospital when my labour pain started. Thankfully, the bike ambulance reached my home within 20 minutes after a social health activist (ASHA) called it,” said Jimita Pradhan, a 25-year-old tribal woman from Pandresi village of Daringbadi.

She gave birth to a baby girl in Budaguda primary health centre on March 31.

A bike ambulance comprises a two-wheeler with a hooded carrier. Each bike can carry one patient at a time. The vehicles have come in handy in areas that are inaccessible due to hilly and forested terrain. 

Kandhamal collector Brunda D said the district administration stationed five bike ambulances in gram panchayats under three blocks.

The vehicles are managed by volunteers of local non-governmental organisations in coordination with the administration. “At the time of COVID-19 outbreak, the administration did not want a decline in institutional delivery due to lack of transport,” she told Down to Earth.

Besides pregnant women, these ambulances also transport sick children to hospitals. Bike ambulance service was started in Kandhamal by Brunda in 2018.

ASHA and anganwadi workers and auxiliary nurse midwives were engaged in the initiative to ensure institutional delivery of children. Since its inception, the service has successfully transported around 400 pregnant women from remotes villages for delivery in nearby hospitals.

The villages covered under the service used to have around 40 per cent home delivery till 2017.

“Now, the introduction of bike ambulances has led to 100 per cent institutional delivery,” said Kailash Dandapat of Jagruti, a Kandhamal-based non-governmental organisation.

Jagruti manages two bike ambulances stationed at Katingia and Budaguda gram panchayats to cater to at least eight villages of Daringbadi and one village under Balliguda block.

Katingia, at the farthest end of Kandhamal, is 60 kilometres away from block headquarters and 170 km from the district headquarters of Phulbani.

Officials said the administration held awareness meetings in gram panchayats way before the lockdown was imposed.

 Volunteers of Antaranga, a youth organisation, also helped the administration and police officials monitor movement of people into the district from outside, said an official from the organisation.


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