PAKISTAN: Edhi ambulance service to expand
Mohammad Asif says he can respond to an emergency within 10 minutes
Karachi, 23 March 2005 (IRIN) - The Karachi-based Edhi Foundation ambulance service, already the largest private ambulance service in the world, looks set to expand further in Pakistan with the purchase of another 150 vehicles this year.
"There are very few government ambulances in Pakistan, "Anwer Kazmi, secretary to the foundation's head, Abdul Sattar Edhi, told IRIN in the port city of Karachi. "People depend on the ambulances of Edhi."
But with 120 ambulances in Karachi and over 1,000 nationwide, backed by 28 rescue boats and an air rescue service comprising of one helicopter and three fixed-wing aircraft, the word 'depend' is nothing short of an understatement.
Phones ringing off the hook at the service's main call centre located on a crowded back street of the former capital are nothing more than routine, where a team of 30 staff members work back-to-back 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
"We receive upwards of 4,000 calls a day for various reasons and dispatch around 700 ambulances daily," Nasim Ahmed, supervisor of the unit, told IRIN proudly.
As the primary ambulance service of the city, other private agencies generally have no more than eight vehicles in total, he claimed, noting patients were charged a nominal fee of less than US $1 for every 20 km and just over 50 cents within the city.
"The need is great and government resources are inadequate," Kazmi asserted. "Economically we are the community's first choice."
In fact, government ambulances are ill-equipped and notorious for not arriving at all, with many hospital officials allegedly commandeering the vehicles for their own private use instead.
"It's corruption. What else could it be?" the 60-year-old, who has worked for the Karachi-based foundation for over two decades, asked. "Even the government depends on Edhi," he said, explaining Edhi ambulances come fully equipped to deal with any emergency, including car accidents, bomb blasts and major natural disasters.
"Road accidents, gun shot wounds and drowning are the type of calls I receive," Mohammad Asif, a 20-year-old Edhi paramedic told IRIN, who alongside his driver, can generally respond to an emergency in under 10 minutes.
But while such a service may not seem remarkable by Western standards, in Pakistan, where people hold little confidence in government services, the operation is viewed as nothing short of a Godsend - and another major achievement for the foundation's bearded and humble founder, Abdul Sattar Edhi.
Operating on a yearly budget of close to $1 million, the ambulance service has become an intricate part of his foundation's many humanitarian causes.
Starting with a tiny dispensary in 1951, Edhi gradually expanded his foundation into a nationwide organisation of ambulances, schools, maternity wards, shelters for runaway children and battered women, mortuaries, soup kitchens, clinics, orphanages, adoption centres and homes for the mentally and physically handicapped.
"Abdul Sattar Edhi is a saint," one local told IRIN, referring to the foundation's 77-year-old founder, a sentiment shared by most of Pakistan's 140 million plus inhabitants, who provide the lion's share of the foundation's $10 million annual budget.