From Bikes to Palanquins and now Human Beings

By Our Special Correspondent

From Bikes to Palanquins and now Human Beings Source: Himalayan News Chronicle

Meghalaya’s dynamic Health Minister, Dr Ampareen Lyngdoh recently had to walk in deep forest for hours crisscrossing hills and springs to Mawkyrwang village in West Khasi Hills District to inaugurate a primary health centre. Work for the centre started 14 years ago to cater to the needs of nearly 100 villages in remote tribal areas. But bigger astonishments were waiting for the no nonsense Minister who grew from a grassroot level. She found in the area without any health centre or doctor. But to her bigger bewilderments she found ambulances not in the form of vehicles but  some  human beings themselves transporting the sick. 

The human ambulances who are tribal youths carry emergency patients on their backs to nearest health centres all by themselves in such difficult topography, hostile weather and fear of wild animals’ attack. Local youths carry the sick on their back and scurry to the nearest health facility or in some places where there exists at least a motorable road linking the facility. They do this as part of their routine and do not accept any money for their yeomen services. “These youths who carry the sick do the service as they feel responsible to save a life,” she said after seeing them actually work. “I feel these important interventions in the effort to save life in the remote villages and bring them to the nearest health facility has  to be recognised,” she said. Impressed with the group of youth’s exemplary  services she has taken up with the Government so that they can be paid some money regularly for such noble work in the difficult remote areas amid adverse conditions.

Incidentally, in the Himalayan region of North Bengal, groups of local people in the remote hilly areas are using the archaic  palanquin as ambulances. The wooden half open half closed boxes are used in Buxa Tiger Reserve in the form of an ambulance even with oxygen cylinders, saline drips, and minimal lifesaving medicines fitted into it. To make it lighter now cane palkis are used instead of traditional wooden ones. It is carried by two or four people by means of two long poles both on front and back. There is no hospital either since it is a core area of a tiger reserve, the environment ministry does not permit building of any concrete structure including roads or mobile towers there.

Moreover,   there is no motorable road and even for vaccination the medical team had to trek kilometres in the jungle. Earlier, pregnant women and sick people including COVID 19 patients were being carried from high altitude villages in sacks. For the indigenous tribes living in the forests, it  takes over hours to trek through precarious terrain from the hilltop to the nearest concrete road or primary health centre. For a long time, villagers used to carry pregnant women and sick people on makeshift stretchers made from clothes and  bamboo sticks. A midwife or assistant accompanies the palki for help. The Palanquin service has been a lifeline for villagers. Such was the success of palanquin the district administration, in collaboration with an NGO, had started a palanquin ambulance service under which patients will be brought from a height of 2,600 feet height to the plains via palanquin.

In a relatively better off tea garden area in Alipurduar district in the same eastern Himalayan region, bikes have been purchased to carry patents since roads are not wide enough to ferry four-wheeler ambulances. The district administration has arranged for bike ambulances for tea estates in remote areas or on tough terrains so that patients from those areas can be taken fast to the nearest health centres and hospitals. A patient can have an attendant seated in the bike ambulance along with the driver and can reach the nearest health centre swiftly for prompt medical intervention.

It is  truly said by Greek Philosopher Plato that necessity is the mother of invention.