Home / Opinion / Online Views /  Taking note of road deaths in India

On 26 August, I lost someone dear to me in a hit-and-run accident. My friend Ali Naqvi was crossing a busy intersection in South Delhi when a car sideswept him and a second car hit him, leaving him with injuries that proved to be fatal. Fifteen minutes after the accident, a passerby took him to hospital, but it was too late.

People who knew Ali personally will miss him. But some facts about his death should worry you even if you didn’t know him. Ali died a five-minute ride away from the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and yet was not taken there in time to give him a fighting chance of survival. The 15 minutes that it took to bring him to hospital had caused irreparable brain damage, the doctor said. As a rule, the brain can go without oxygen for three to six minutes before damage sets in.

More facts: India accounts for about 10% of road crash fatalities worldwide. In terms of absolute numbers more people die in road crashes in India than anywhere else in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the death rate per 100,000 populations for road traffic accident has increased from 16.8 in 2009 to 18.9 in 2013.

This estimate is much higher than the rate in high income countries (8.7 per 100,000) and middle-income neighbouring countries like. Indonesia (17.7), Pakistan (17.4), Nepal (16), Myanmar (15), Sri Lanka (13.7), Bhutan (13.2), Mauritius (12.2) and Bangladesh (11.6).

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in the year 2011 there were 440,123 road accidents resulting in the death of 136,834 people. The incidence of accidental deaths increased by 44.2% in 2011 from 2001. This figure translates into one death every five minutes on Indian roads and is expected to escalate to one death every three minutes by 2020.

If these numbers mean nothing to you, consider this. Most victims are left to die on the streets even when hospitals are close by. While there is no denying that the general apathy of people makes matters worse, this is essentially a problem of unresponsive governance. Have we, the people, accepted living in a system that is designed to fail us in any and every emergency? When our cities are known to be pedestrian-unfriendly and jaywalking is a socially accepted norm, the least the government can do is to be prepared.

In 2007, the Centralized Accident and Trauma Services (CATS) informed the Delhi high court that it would increase its ambulance fleet to 450 by 2008. As a part of the Commonwealth Games ‘legacy’, Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit’s government had promised to introduce a fleet of 150 ambulances—an advanced life support (ALS), basic life support (BLS) and a first responder vehicle for each district in Delhi.

The ALS team can perform basic emergency procedures and even deliver babies in the ambulance. The BLS ambulance can stabilize and transport the patient to the hospital while the first responder vehicle is a bike-mounted paramedic, who can reached congested areas and provide medical assistance.

As of now, CATS has a fleet of 101 ambulances (21 ALS, 10, BLS and 70 Maruti Eeco care ambulances) for nearly 17 million people who live in Delhi, as per the 2011 census. Most of these ambulances can, at best, be described as patient transport vehicles.

For long, public health experts have maintained that unless demand for better health services in general and emergency medical response in particular becomes more vocal, the status quo will remain.

Ali’s death, while tragic, is just a statistic for NCRB. It is neither the first nor the last of such accidents. The real tragedy, however, is that as a city we have accepted that if our loved ones return home every night, we have just had a lucky day. The thing with luck is that it eventually runs out.

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