State Minister for Health and Family Affairs Zahid Malik instructed the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and other ministry high officials to jointly formulate the policy following an ambulance accident on October 15 last year which killed five people, including a six month pregnant woman.
An untrained ambulance helper ran over the victims at the entrance of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) emergency gate during the accident, according to reports.
“A draft of the policy has been sent to the ministry for vetting, as far as I know,” said Saidur Rahman, director (hospital) at the DGHS. “We have stated our recommendations in the draft. We do not know when it will be approved.”
Foyez Ahmed, additional secretary at the ministry, said: “The draft was sent back by the state minister with instruction for some revisions. We are currently working on it and hope to submit the revised draft soon.”
Ministry sources said Joint Secretary (Hospital) Zakia Sultana was working on the revision. The Dhaka Tribune tried to contact her over phone for a comment, but could not reach her.
According to Dhaka Metropolitan Ambulance Owners’ Association, there are currently 170 ambulances in Dhaka that are registered with the city co-operatives, whereas around 6,000 ambulances are operating in the country.
However, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) says as of August 31, 2016, there are 4,527 ambulances operating in Bangladesh, 2,639 of which are in Dhaka alone.
As there are currently no regulations for ambulance service, the BRTA is issuing road permits for ambulances, Foyez told the Dhaka Tribune.
“This will change after the ministry approves and implements the policy,” he added.
There are a specific set of rules for acquiring the licence for an ambulance, said Md Reazul Islam, motor vehicle inspector at the BRTA.
“Usually an ambulance has to apply for registration under a hospital or an organisation; there is no option of running an ambulance service privately. Following the application, a BRTA inspector checks the vehicle to ensure that all requirements – i.e. equipment – for an ambulance have been fulfilled,” he said.
An ambulance must include an oxygen cylinder with a face mask, a stretcher for the patient, a siren and other life-saving equipments, he added.
Transport expert Kazi Saifun Newaz, however, disagreed saying there was no such process that was being followed to issue the permits.
“Usually a microbus is converted to an ambulance and is registered under the microbus category, not as an ambulance,” said Newaz, an assistant professor at Accident Research Institute of Buet.
“In Bangladesh, most of the ambulances do not have the necessary facilities that are provided by ambulance services in developed countries, for example paramedics,” he said.
When contacted, Momin Ali, president of the ambulance owners’ association, said although the ambulances do not have paramedics, every ambulance has an assistant who can provide basic help to the patients.